Highland blew the National League 1 title race wide open – forcing themselves into contention after beating league leaders Melrose 26-20.
It was thoroughly merited win at Canal Park in front of a raucous Inverness crowd.
Head coach Dave Carson was delighted with his charges, who – after another slow start – took control, having survived a difficult opening 15 minutes.
He said: “This was Highland at their best.
“They outmatched a big Border pack, while demonstrating some fine back division play.
“In particular, scrum-half Ross Thomson, who was standing in for the injured Hugo Crush, had a great game, but the win was based on solid forward play, which gave their pack a tough afternoon.
“Our discipline was good in contrast to their’s, but Melrose are a good team, giving us a heart-stopping last 10 minutes.”
The Borderers took the lead after only two minutes through a penalty, kicked by full-back David Colvine, and then threatened to overwhelm the home side for the next 10 minutes, until, in a rare breakout, the Highland pack surged to the Melrose line.
This enabled lock Sean Blair to touch down for a try converted by full-back Scott Fraser.
Stung into retaliation, the Greenyards side hit back with a second Colvine penalty, but were now playing second fiddle to Highland, who pressed forward, only to throw a wild pass which was intercepted by Melrose winger Aiden Cross, who raced 60 yards to score in the corner.
The difficult conversion was kicked by Colvine, giving his side a 13-10 lead, only for the indiscipline of flanker Ruaridh Lindsay to cost them three points and a yellow card, making it 13 apiece at half time.
Playing with a light wind in the second period, Highland ran the show, easing ahead in the 58th minute when the electric pace of Thomson – not for the first time – outpaced the Borderers defence to score at the posts.
Fraser kicked the extras, following up with another penalty soon to make it 23 – 13, but, as is the way of all good teams, Melrose hit back with a try from nowhere from scrum-half Ethan McVicker. With the reliable Colvine kicking the conversion, it made for a nerve-wracking last few minutes for the home supporters, eased only by a fourth successful penalty from the boot of Fraser, who was making it six out of six attempts.
Thus ended another Canal Road epic, with Highland’s made even more impressive when you remember they were languishing in Caley 2 North only nine years ago. It is a result which takes the home side to within three points of the new leaders Biggar in this most competitive of leagues.
Wanderers and Caithness miss chance in Caley 1
In Caley Division 1, Aberdeen Wanderers and Caithness missed the opportunity to substantially close the six-point gap on leaders Orkney, losing out to Hillfoots and Blairgowrie respectively, but picking losing bonus points for their troubles
Wanderers lost 24-17 at Groats Road, while Caithness were shock 21-17 losers at Blairgowrie.
Ellon were runaway 106-12 winners at home to bottom side Glenrothes.
In the only game played in Caley 2 North, Ross Sutherland eased home at Invergordon, seeing off Mackie FPs 36-28.
In Caley 3 North, Gordonians collected their sixth consecutive try bonus point to lead the division by 20 points.
Despite the long trip to Thurso, Dyce made it five wins out six games to continue to set the pace in Caley 4 North, beating 2nd Caithness 33-14.