Tough love for Highland is serving city rugby team well

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

HIGHLAND find themselves above rugby heavyweights Melrose, Gala, Watsonians and Kelso in National Division One. Just think about that for a moment. Do not underestimate how consistent they have had to be for many years to reach this point.

The Inverness team hammered Dundee High 66-17 on Saturday to move just behind leaders Biggar after nine fixtures. These top two teams have just come up from National Division Two and have more than proven their worth one further rung up the ladder by riding high in the top two positions.

As I wrote about in this column recently, I watched Highland step it up to knock Stirling Wolves out of the Scottish Cup last month at the shiny well-run Canal Park set-up, which was bustling and buzzing and fans were cheered by the rugby on offer. The standard was excellent. It was a testing tie but the hosts cleared that hurdle in style.

Their reward is a crack at Premiership Marr early next year, here in Inverness.

They were expected to beat Dundee High at the weekend and, given their visitors are bottom of the table, the fact they won by 49 points may come as no real shock either.

The big thing for me was how Highland coped with this fixture on the back of head coach Davie Carson’s comments after their 28-3 league victory over Ayr a week ago.

Despite the result, he slammed the display post-match and his follow-up comments later in the week still stressed the need for higher standards, especially at home.

After reading that reaction to the win on Monday, I was keen to see if he’d perhaps have admitted he’d been too stinging of his players. Not at all.

It shows exactly what it means to play, or coach, at Highland right now and that can only serve the club well now and for the future. It is always about improvement, as individuals and as a team.

It has not all been plain sailing this season. Although they are only five points off the summit, successive defeats to Heriot’s Blues and Watsonians were reminders that the club is on a learning curve. Their response to those back-to-back losses indicates those games have been lessons learned.

There is no doubt it has been a fantastic start to the season for everyone at Highland. The next huge examination comes this Saturday with a trip to Melrose, a famous rugby place name and side to try and get the better of.

Melrose were surprisingly beaten 54-5 by an ever resurgent Cartha Queens Park in Glasgow at the weekend, so question marks will hover over The Greenyards as they welcome Davie Carson’s troops. 

I thought the head coach was taking a gamble slamming his victorious players a week ago, but they’ve responded in the best fashion because the believe in him and trust him wholly for what he and the other coaches are instilling in them.

I interviewed Davie at the start of the season for my North Highland Radio show, Alive and Kicking. He was keen not to publicly state the targets for this season after a second successive promotion. 

It may have been that he simply wanted his group of talented players to consolidate this year as this is no easy division – far from it. However, he maybe, just maybe, didn’t want to put a ceiling on what the men in red and green shirts can achieve in 2019-2020.

It promises to be a brilliant journey for everyone involved with Carson at the helm.

  • A wee word for the women side at Inverness Craig Dunain Rugby Club.

Their weekend ‘home’ fixture against Shetland Ladies had to be played in Elgin as there was not one available pitch in Inverness.  We all know of sports clubs who have faced insurmountable challenges in finding a home base, such as Inverness City FC, who are no longer on the go, largely due to a pitch battle they never could win. 

Inverness Craig Dunain, as a club overall, didn’t expect to still be moving from pillar to post as we near 2020. That’s a subject I’ll definitely return to soon. 

Caley Thistle up against it as Terrors crank up Championship title bid

IT was a nightmare weekend for Caley Thistle – and a dream one for Dundee United.

The Arabs got the Scottish Championship weekend started on Friday when without breaking sweat they won their derby 2-0 against a Dundee side now third in the table after an upturn in form.

ICT lost 3-0 to United last week and what could have been a one-point gap between the clubs became seven. John Robertson’s men would therefore even have taken a win for Dundee on Friday, even although they’d still be behind them in the league by up to four points.

On Saturday, second-placed Ayr were beaten 3-1 by potential big-hitters Queen of the South and the Caley Jags slid to a 3-0 defeat at Dick Campbell’s Arbroath .

The Red Lichties are now level on points with ICT, in fourth spot, and will secretly fancy a crack at the play-offs despite just coming up as League One winners in May.

Defensively questionable right now, Caley Thistle must get better. A shift of focus to the quarter-finals of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup against Clyde on Saturday may sharpen their focus.

Dundee United, meanwhile, have just had the perfect weekend and even now, the Premiership is coming into view.

  • Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm.

Listen live via the station’s website, the Tune In app or your smart speakers. Follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook and leave your comments which could be aired on the show.

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