Highland taking big strides towards becoming a beacon for rugby

Canal Park outfit are celebrating a victory over Gordonians on Saturday and a Royal Visit to officially open their new facility on Monday

Highland Canal Park
Highland coach Davie Carson and captain Stuart McDonald with mascot for the day Adam Mitchell before the club's match against Glasgow Accies in October. They are in front of the newly opened state-of-the-art facility which Highland can now call home. The two clubs meet again in Glasgow this coming Saturday with promotion to National Two on the line. Image courtesy: Highland RFC

THE clash of the day in National League Three last weekend, at least for Caledonia supporters of the game, was unquestionably at Countesswells where Gordonians took on Highland to decide which club had the bragging rights in the area.

By the end of a cold, windswept afternoon in Aberdeen, there was no question about which club has made the most progress since gaining promotion to the national leagues in recent years.

Highland, who are pushing for promotion from the division, have clearly learned more about existing in the rarefied atmosphere since coming up from the regional leagues two seasons ago than their Aberdeen neighbours who are experiencing the heady heights for the first time after their elevation last season.

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The away team’s emphatic 45-7 win keeps the Inverness outfit firmly in the promotion race, in the company of league leaders Glasgow Academicals, second-placed Newton Stewart and third-place St Boswells, who have all played more games than Highland.

Davie Carson, the Canal Park head coach, was in no doubt about his progressive side’s ability to go up to the third tier of the Scottish club game at the end of the season, which would be an excellent achievement given that the club was languishing in Caledonia League Division Two North just five seasons ago.

”We have come a long way in five years, and with six games to play our destiny is firmly in our own hands, especially if we can beat Glasgow Accies at New Anniesland on Saturday,” he said. “We were the first team to beat them this season, and while it’s a big ask on their own ground, this performance after not playing since February convinces me we have lost none of our edge and appetite for the task. There is a great spirit in the team. Saturday can’t come quick enough.”

Carson’s enthusiasm and confidence was echoed by president Alistair McKenzie.

“It is all coming together after a lot of hard work by successive committees. This season we took possession of our state of the art G4 pitch and its wonderful facilities, making us the envy of the sporting fraternity in the city and area. To cap it all we now have a team with ambition to go with it, superbly led by Davie [Carson], who has been an inspiration for us all,” he said.

A Royal stamp of approval

The new ground and facilities were unveiled officially on Monday by the Princess Royal. A Festival of Rugby involving more than 470 primary school pupils from throughout the Inverness area was held to mark the occasion.


The Princess Royal was at Canal Park on Monday to officially open the new facility
The Princess Royal was at Canal Park on Monday to officially open the new facility – Image courtesy: Highland RFC

The local council contributed £4.1m to the creation of the Canal Park facility, sportscotland invested £0.5m and there was a £40,000 award from Scottish Rugby’s Club Sustainability Fund.

Construction of the new facility began in the summer of 2017, was completed in October 2017 and is now managed by High Life Highland in partnership with Highland Rugby Club. The ground floor of the clubhouse has eight players’ changing rooms, two officials’ changing rooms, a physio/first aid room, a strength and conditioning suite, offices, stores and toilet facilities for disabled and spectators. On the first floor, accessible by lift and stairs, is a function room and spectators’ balcony, clubroom, kitchen, bar and toilet facilities suitable for disabled.

Outside there is a new World Rugby compliant artificial pitch with floodlighting,  a new full-size grass pitch, a new junior pitch partly floodlit to training standard and a new car parking area.

The FestIval of rugby brought 470 kids from across Inverness to play at Canal Park Image courtesy: Highland RFC
The FestIval of Rugby brought 470 kids from across Inverness to play at Canal Park – Image courtesy: Highland RFC

While Gordonians were well beaten on Saturday, they too have a story to tell, for despite shipping seven tries in this match president Jim Sugden is bullish about the direction the club is travelling, having achieved the objective of consolidating their position in it’s first season back in the national leagues.

We set ourselves the target of staying up and have done just that. In fact, we could yet end up in the top half of the league. Today was a set-back but in fairness this is a very, very good Highland side who could well go and put Caledonia on the map should they, as I expect, get promoted,” he said. ”Like Highland, we are a club with a great tradition, and hopefully we’ll meet again soon in National League Two.”

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About Jack Nixon 73 Articles
Jack is a Borderer, born in Langholm, and a graduate of Moray House College of Education in Edinburgh. He was a founder member of Livingston Rugby Club in 1968 and has been rugby correspondent for the Aberdeen Press and Journal since 1997. He has been going to Murrayfield man and boy since 1954!