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Departing Highland stalwart Rory Cross reflects on ‘brilliant journey’ at Canal Park ahead of move to Canada

Rory Cross. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Rory Cross. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Rory Cross is departing Highland full of pride with the progress made by the Inverness club.

Former centre Cross is moving on following more than a decade at Canal Park, after opting to relocate to Toronto in Canada.

Most recently, Cross has been tasked with overseeing strength and conditioning as part of Davie Carson’s coaching staff.

During Cross’ initial days in the first team, Highland toiled in Caledonia 2 North.

Following a succession of promotions they now play in National 1, where they occupy fifth place at present.

Cross feels he is departing Highland as a firmly established second-tier force – who have the potential to progress even further.

‘We have taken the club from such a low place’

Cross said: “It has been a brilliant journey.

“There have been a few great moments. All the promotions, and moving up the leagues has been brilliant.

“When I co-captained with Stuart MacDonald, and we took the team up to National 1, that was a big highlight.

“It has been nice to play big games against the big teams, and beating teams like Heriot’s and Melrose.

Rory Cross.

“These are big names in club rugby, so to have them up at Canal Park and actually beat them has been a big feeling.

“I feel we are now not that little small club in the Highlands, we are actually competing at this level.

“I would say the highlight is where we have taken the club, from such a low place.

“There is still the potential that we can aim for the Premiership one day. I hope to see that happen.”

Strength and conditioning a vital part of modern rugby

Cross’ passion for strength and conditioning has made him a key figure at Canal Park, particularly as the club have advanced through the divisions.

The 31-year-old also had a vital role to play during the Covid-19 pandemic, in preparing Highland for a return to action following an 18-month shutdown.

Cross has been driven by a determination to ensure the Inverness squad are in line with the physical standard of their National 1 opponents.

He added: “Towards the end of my playing career, I wanted to focus on the strength and conditioning a bit more. I transitioned into that as a coach.

“I was a bit worried at the start about how it would be, coaching guys that I had just finished playing with.

Rory Cross at Inverness Sports Centre in 2020. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

“To be fair, it was quite an easy progression into it and I found it quite easy to shout at them.

“Once you get into the national leagues, other teams definitely take the conditioning and gym work more seriously.

“I can definitely see that, especially in National 1 now. If players don’t do it, they just can’t compete at that level.

“It has become more important. It has been quite a big culture shift at the club to get into the gym side of things, because it was not something that was always done.

“With good work from Ruaridh MacDonald and Hugo Crush, we set up a youth academy which allows players to get extra skill sessions, along with extra strength and conditioning time.

“We have tried to make it more normal to hit the gym and make that part of rugby.

“Rugby always comes first, but you need conditioning to get into the best shape to compete and play.”

Rory Cross: ‘A good all-round guy’

Highland head coach Davie Carson paid tribute to the impact Cross has made at his hometown club as both a player and coach, insisting his departure will be keenly felt.

Carson said: “He is a massive loss for the club. Rory came back from university in Edinburgh just when I started about 10 years ago.

“He has been with us as a player, and then transitioned over to strength and conditioning while still playing.

Highland head coach Davie Carson.

“He has made a big difference. We knew we needed to have someone who was really good at that to help the boys, especially moving up the divisions when everything gets bigger, stronger and quicker. The players need to adapt.

“Rory has done an absolutely fantastic job, firstly as a class player who could still pull a shirt on and do a job at this level. He really understands rugby and has a good turn of pace.

“We joked with him that it’s the fourth retirement he has had.

“He would often come back for a few games.

Rory Cross in action for Highland.

“He has also been a great strength and conditioning coach who will be really missed.

“He really took it on board and loved doing the job he was doing. We wish him all the best when he goes across the pond.

“He’s just a good all-round guy.”