by JACK NIXON
HIGHLAND Rugby Club will celebrate 100 years of playing the game of rugby in Inverness in four years time, but instead of dwelling on its rich history, club president Geoff Begg is more inclined to look to the future.
“While it is only right and proper that we should recognise the many achievements of the club, created in 1921, it is also vital that we look to the future and ensure Inverness has a legacy to hand on. I am very proud of where the club has come from, but just as keen we plan to put the game and the club in a good place for the years ahead in the city,” said Begg, who feels privileged to be president at Canal Park at a time when a new clubhouse and adjoining facilities are currently under construction, and due to be ready in the 2017-18 season. The clubhouse itself will be double the size of the current one with a seating capacity of 120 for functions.
“It will be a great facility, and includes an all-weather 4G pitch, two grass pitches, a physio room, and a weights room,” enthused Begg. “It will serve as another launchpad for the club to progress.”
The club will be central to Highland Council’s imaginative £3.5 million plan to enhance the area west of the city.
Andy Little, club chairman paid tribute to Highland Council’s initiative, and said: “We are delighted to be in partnership with the council, and being part of a complex which will also house other sports, including football, shinty, hockey and American Football. The council has done us proud.”
So while the future of a sporting base is assured for future years, the forward thinking National League Three club is quietly ensuring that they have a team to match the state of the art facilities.
Highland is particularly proud of its various age-grade teams, including the under-18 side, the Beagles, who produced so many of current squad. “All our under age teams serve as ambassador’s for the club. It is a tradition we are happy to continue,” said Begg.
“As a club who once graced the top Scottish division, albeit in the 1970’s, we are aiming to put ourselves on the current rugby map, including producing young players who will play in the national teams, and hopefully emulating our most famous product Nairn MacEwan, who won 20 full international caps before going on to become the first ever coach of the national team in 1978. George Mackie also won four caps, again in the mid 70’s. Currently we have Bruce Flockhart in the Scotland Under 20 squad, so we are well on the way to achieving one of our objectives,” added Begg, who believes that in appointing Davie Carson to the position of head coach four years ago was a masterstroke.
“At that time Highland were languishing in Caledonia North Division Two, and on a downward spiral. From the outset Davie put standards in place that he expected from the players, including a desire to win, pride in the club, a dress code, and a commitment to the long haul,”said Begg.
The organised, likeable Carson firstly surrounded himself with experienced, proven winners, including appointing Kevin Brown as his captain for a four year term, while taking aboard a coaching team he could rely on, made up of Alistair ‘Porky’ Wymess, Roy Dinnes, Morris Dillon and Bruce Macgregor, all former players.
The strategy paid dividends, leading to three promotions, winning the National Bowl, reaching a National Shield at Murrayfield, and winning the Caley Cup.
“The transformation, both on and off the field has been breathtaking. We now find ourselves pushing for promotion to National League Two, and who knows, maybe one day, a crack at reaching the top league again,” said the proud president.
Highland are currently fifth in the table, but a win away to third placed Dumfries Saints on Saturday will go a long way to bolstering the Canal Park outfit’s promotion credentials. As will their matches against the other three teams currently above them in the league during the next six weeks, away to fourth placed Glasgow Academicals on 11th March, at home to top placed St Boswells [who have already been beaten there 56 – 19 in the Scottish Cup] and at home to second placed Lasswade on 8th April.
Images courtesy: Owen Cochrane/Highland RFC