IT has been a good week for Highland Rugby Club. Firstly, they defeated Cartha Queens Park last Saturday with a bonus point to climb up to second in National League One with nine wins from 12, then scrum-half Hugo Crush was named as the scorer of Scottish Rugby’s try of the month for November thanks to his effort in the 66-17 home victory against Dundee HSFP.
They are now looking to end the week on another high note, but know that they will face a stern test away to league leaders Biggar at Hartreemill on Saturday. Just as Highland pride themselves on their home form, so do a Biggar side who are five points clear of Highland at the summit having played a game less, having racked up a number of impressive victories – over Boroughmuir (53-7), Ayr (62-15), Dundee HSFP (50-7), Melrose (55-12), Stirling Wolves (31-15) and Watsonians (40-7) – on their own patch in recent months.
However, Highland beat them 19-7 in week two of the campaign up in Inverness soon after the two sides were promoted from National Two last term, so this game has all the makings of a cracker in front of a big crowd.
Two players who are likely to be key for the visitors are stand-off Scott Fraser and No 8 Oscar Baird. Fraser, 24, was named man of the match last week and earned praise from head coach Dave Carson for the way that he controlled the game against Cartha and got his team into the right areas of the field.
He began playing at the club when he was in first year of primary school and, amazingly, Carson and his assistant Chris Brogan were Fraser’s coaches in the minis back then, too.
“I loved my time in the youth section here and when I had just turned 18 I got my first shot at senior rugby,” Fraser recounts. “The team had been relegated into Caledonia Two North at that stage, but it meant that the club could blood some youngsters straight out of the under-18s and we all got our shot and began to learn quickly in the senior game.
“We were thrown in at the deep end, but we kept learning and the team then began to move up the leagues again. Things have transformed in the last five or six years. The first XV have been on the up and the redevelopment of the clubhouse and the facilities has also been going on.”
Hugo Crush scored Scottish Rugby’s try-of-the-month for November 2019 –
Key to getting Highland up to the heights of second in National One have been the coaching team of Carson and Brogan. “Davie is fantastic, he has been there and done that, and everyone at Highland has so much respect for him,” said Fraser, who has also played for Edinburgh Accies and spent last year travelling in Australia and New Zealand.
“Chris takes responsibility for the backs along with Iain Chisholm who plays for us and is also the club’s development officer. They are both really knowledgeable guys and as a backline we believe we are growing all of the time.
“Going into this season, we always had confidence in our home record, but we weren’t exactly sure of what the Super6 Club XVs would bring to the league.
“Our aim was a top four finish and now we have put ourselves in a good position so we just have to keep working hard for each other and see where it takes us with all of the focus on this weekend’s match against a good Biggar team.”
Baird, 23, joined Highland at under-18s level and played two years for that team before reaching the senior ranks in 2014. “I had played school rugby until I joined Highland and coming into a proper set-up with regular games at that time was brilliant for me,” he said.
“A number of the boys from that colts team are now in the 1st XV squad. When I was given my chance in the senior squad we were in Caledonia North One and moving back up the way, so I got my head down, learnt as I went and haven’t looked back since really.
“I was usually a second-row, but over the last month or so I have been at No 8 and loving it … getting my hands a bit more on the ball, too.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Highland’s season so far is the way the team bounced back from successive defeats to Heriot’s Blues and Watsonians back in October. Self-doubt could have started to creep into the playing group at that point, but they showed admirable resilience and have since won five out of six league games and progressed to the last eight of the National League Cup.
“There is so much character about this group now, we never know when we are beat,” Baird explains. “We could have wobbled after those results, but we are a very close knit bunch and our heads never went down, we just regrouped and started to focus on the next run of games.
“That has led us to this big match with Biggar. We know they will be physical and have a good pack, so we need to match that and try and secure some good ball for our backs to use – I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Biggar are looking forward to the Highland match too and their player/forwards coach Craig Borthwick said: “Saturday is just another step on the ladder for this team as we look to keep improving. Although it is a top of the table match, nothing changes from our end, we have to focus on what we can control and if we do that then we can get a positive result.”
Fourth plays third at The Greenyards when Melrose host Heriot’s Blues with the visitors having Rory Carmichael, Cammy Lineen, Oisin Quinn and Peter McKerr joining the squad.
Gala are fifth and they are on the road to Dumbreck to face Cartha Queens Park.
Stirling Wolves are sixth and they take on ever-improving Kelso at Bridgehaugh, Ayr take on Boroughmuir at Millbrae and Watsonians are away to winless Dundee HSFP. Kieran D’aeth and Danny McGinn are back for the Mayfield men.
This weekend’s National League Division One fixtures (all 2pm unless stated) –
Dundee High v Watsonians
Biggar v Highland
Cartha Queens Park v Gala
Melrose v Heriot’s Blues
Ayr v Boroughmuir (3pm)
Stirling Wolves v Kelso (3pm)
How it stands –