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Rugby: Highland ready for Aberdeen Grammar derby clash after promotion hopes end

Andrew Findlater is back for Highland this weekend away to Aberdeen Grammar. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Andrew Findlater is back for Highland this weekend away to Aberdeen Grammar. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Highland head coach Davie Carson accepts their promotion hopes have gone – but he’s urging his side to kick on against north rivals Aberdeen Grammar on Saturday.

The Inverness side were involved in a pulsating 36-30 home defeat to Melrose at the weekend, which leaves them fifth in National League One and a whopping 19 points away from leaders Kelso.

With just one automatic promotion spot up for grabs, Highland are all but out of contention.

Highland head coach Davie Carson.

This Saturday, an away game against Grammar will be a fresh test and is the first meeting of the sides since the Aberdeen club won the National League Cup three years ago at Bridgehaugh in Stirling.

Carson expects Grammar to be formidable opponents as they shape up for a north showdown.

He said: “You couldn’t get a better game to go into after coming off the defeat to Melrose than a derby like this.

“We haven’t played Aberdeen for many years in the league, because they’ve been up in the Premiership.

“Aberdeen have had a tough start to the season, but they had a horrific run of fixtures, including games down in the Borders to start with. They’ve won a couple of games now.

“They’ve still got Premiership experience, so this will be a tough one for us. We used to play them all the time in the league and it will be good to renew the rivalry.

“This is a rearranged game, following the death of the Queen, so we will play them again next month, so will look forward to it.”

‘No-nonsense, running rugby’

Carson was thrilled his men had a real go at Melrose, who are nine points off the summit with a game in hand and very much in title contention.

He said: “The performance was top-class. It was the best rugby we’ve played all season.

“While we were on the wrong end of the scoreline, it was two sides playing a brilliant brand of rugby. It was no-nonsense, just great running rugby.

“We lost by six points, but there were far more positives than negatives to take from it. The crowd enjoyed it and hospitality was packed out. There were 400-500 in.

“We’re too far behind now to win the league. I said at the start of the season, with only one promotion place available, sides will drop out of the title chase quite early on – unfortunately, it’s us now out of it.

“However, there is still plenty to play for. We still want to win every game.”

Need to secure more away victories

Highland have been strong on their own patch this year and might well still be in the chase for glory had they not slipped up on two particular away days, according to Carson.

He said:Β “We have to convert and get results and more places than at Canal Park.

“We’ve shown the boys the video from last week’s game and explained there’s no reason why we cannot replicate that level of performance away from home.

“We should have won our games against GHK and Stirling this season. (24-13 and 34-13 defeats).

“When you play the sides at the top of the league and are beaten by the better side, you just hold your hands up – but we just didn’t perform in those two away games. We should have come back with maximum points and we didn’t.

“But this is a fantastic division to be in. Some of the games have really good running rugby – it’s not like in other leagues where there is not much excitement.

“People here are enjoying the rugby they’re watching. That’s what it’s all about.”

For the Grammar trip, Patrick Ratumaisese and Magnus Hendry miss out with ankle injuries, butΒ Stephen Murray – free from suspension – is in the squad again.

Highland also welcome back Andrew Findlater after more than a year out with injuries, which included a dislocated finger, while Gordon Gregor returns, as will several players who are back from deployment with the army in Poland.

Last week, there were 64 senior players in action across the Highland sides and Carson said the club will continue to blood their young talent throughout the rest of the campaign.

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