Highland head coach Davie Carson will look towards next season after all but ruling out a promotion push in National League 1.
The Inverness side head to Melrose this weekend, seven days after a damaging 32-25 loss at Watsonian left them a dozen points behind leaders Heriot’s Blues, but in fifth position overall.
One glance at the table shows Gala, handily placed in third spot, are only five points from the top and with two games in hand.
Melrose, who were 43-7 victors at Cartha Queen’s Park on Saturday, are one place and one point behind Highland, having played one match less.
With four rivals in front of them now, Carson is already looking to field players with a view to blending them into first-team reckoning next term.
Proud club aiming to finish on a high
So, while winning at Melrose is their target, the focus of not realistically chasing a title or promotion, changes the outlook somewhat.
Carson said: “We spoke on Tuesday night about it and we feel promotion is probably away from us now.
“But we are a proud club with proud players and we want to finish as high up the table as we can because we’re still punching well about our weight, given the resources we’ve got compared to other clubs.
“The boys have been fantastic this year. We won’t just say ‘we can’t go up, we can’t go down’ as we want to keep fighting and getting wins and results.
“Promotion is probably beyond us. Too many teams above us would need to slip up. You never know, but it’s not looking likely.
One dummy pass, three defenders sold 👋
Catch the latest highlights from last weekend's @TennentsLager League action.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) January 25, 2022
“We will start to introduce some new things from now on. That means it won’t be a rush in pre-season.
“It’s not a case of ‘we need to win the next game to stay in the race’. Of course, we want to win, but we will also give starts to maybe some of the guys who haven’t had a much game time and expose them to the level they are going to be at next year. We will take advantage of where we are to move the club forward.”
Melrose will target revenge win
Melrose were beaten 26-20 when they visited Canal Park in October and Carson expects on their Greenyards turf, their hosts will be extra keen to get a victory.
He said: “It’s another huge game and they all will be until the end of the season.
“It’s a big challenge to try and win down there. Melrose are a really good side and it was a really close game in Inverness and we beat them. They’ll be looking for revenge.”
It’s a triple header this Saturday at Melrose Rugby
At 1pm the U18’s will take on Whitecraigs for the National Youth Shield Semi Final
At 2pm Storm will take on Linlithgow on the Battery Dykes
3pm will see the 1XV take on Highland RFC
The clubhouse will be open! pic.twitter.com/yGJ61UapFP
— Melrose Rugby (@MelroseRugby) January 26, 2022
Fine margins in Edinburgh loss
Looking back at the loss against second-bottom Watsonian, who closed in on Dundee and Cartha Queen’s Park, Carson felt on another day Highland could well have headed north from Edinburgh with a win.
He added: “It was another close game, as they all have been in this division. It was a really good game of rugby.
“We conceded a couple of soft tries, but came back really strongly in the last 10-15 minutes, which was pleasing, and got within striking distance of them.
“Some inconsistencies from the officials didn’t help. They should have had players in the bin for all the penalties they gave away, but we all make mistakes. You need to take it on the chin and move on.
Here’s the 1st XV squad making the long journey for tomorrows Nat Lge Div 1 game:
📆 29th January 2022
📌The Greenyards, Melrose
⏰ Kick Off 3pm#ontheroadagain
Thanks to @HSSHire @CityInverness @lochnessbrewery @mkmbs ANM Electrical, Cartec, @RhinoteamwearS pic.twitter.com/OUXYLkQeay
— Highland Rugby Club 🦅 (@HighlandRFC) January 28, 2022
“I said before we went on the park, they were second-bottom and in the relegation drop zone, so they’d be fighting for their lives.
“They are playing well and they just need to start winning games to stay up. They must have put in four one-on-one try-saving tackles in the last 10-15 minutes, so you need to hand it to them.
“We got a point from it, it should have been more, but we’ll move on.”
Callum Carson will be missing for a couple of weeks due to a knee ligament injury, while Seamus Ross is out due to shoulder damage.
Experienced Rory Cross should slot in for Ross against Melrose, with Grant Jamieson a contender to replace Callum Carson.
After facing Melrose, and due to the Six Nations starting, Highland’s next game will be on February 12 away to current second-placed side, Biggar.
🦅💚❤️ Just a wee reminder if you’re in the position to make a donation for the Highland hampers you can drop the items off at the club house during our training sessions Tue, Wed, & Thurs, minis & micros on Sundays, & match days👇https://t.co/eilhjD9X5k pic.twitter.com/gfKzJqTa8s
— Highland Rugby Club 🦅 (@HighlandRFC) January 25, 2022