Highland are aware that picking up points on the road will be crucial in what is set to be an ultra-competitive National One league this season, so they are keen to get off to a positive start when they travel to take on Dundee Rugby on Saturday.
Scottish Rugby has re-jigged the top few men’s divisions in clubland for 2023/24, meaning that below the 10-team Premiership there are now four National leagues made up of 10 teams each.
Last term Highland finished a creditable fifth in what was then a 12-team National One and head coach Dave Carson and his charges are keen to try and challenge up at the top end of the division once again.
The Inverness-based outfit pride themselves on their home form at Canal Park, but points on their travels will be just as key if they are to compete with the likes of GHA, Ayr, Melrose, Gala and others for top spot over the next 18 matches.
Dundee finished seventh last season – 22 points behind Highland – and, ahead of the opening day trip to the City of Discovery, Carson said: “We are all really looking forward to getting going.
“Pre-season has gone well and we are getting good numbers at training with 60 or 70 players down at training every Tuesday and Thursday evening and as a coaching group that gives us positive selection issues.
“In terms of the first XV, we know that National One is going to be as tight as ever with all teams capable of beating the other teams, so we cannot look too far ahead.
“We just want to get off to a good start against Dundee if we can and then build from there.”
Strachan sets out stall
New Aberdeen Grammar head coach Eric Strachan is looking forward to leading the club as they begin life in National Two at home to Stirling County.
Grammar won just three matches in National One last time out and have been relegated two years in a row, but there has been a positive feeling building up during pre-season.
County were also relegated before the summer and ahead of the Rubislaw meeting Strachan, who is being assisted with the coaching by his son Ryan, said: “We are looking to change the style of play in attack and defence, so there has been a lot for the players to take in during pre-season, but they have been receptive to the new ideas and things are starting to bed in.
“Over the first few games of the season we are hopeful that things will come together and that the team will enjoy the new style.
“With the likes of Gordonians and Kirkcaldy in the division we are looking forward to some good tussles and, in general, I think it is going to be a very competitive league.”
After winning the National Three title in 2022/23, Gordonians are excited by the prospect of competing in a higher league.
They start life in National Two on the road to Peebles who finished fourth last time out.
“We know it will be a step up in quality coming into this division and the boys are keen to test themselves and show what they can do,” Gordonians head coach Ryan Morrice said.
“As a club we want guys to embrace the challenge of playing against the likes of Grammar when those games come around and this game at Peebles will give us a good indicator of where we are at and how things are coming together at this stage.”
Orkney finished last season with a flourish, a 40-22 win over Gordonians in May helping them finish sixth in National Three.
They start this campaign in National Three with a trip to Glasgow to face West of Scotland who finished fourth last time out.
Caledonian One is into its second week of action and Ellon and Aberdeen Wanderers meet.
The Wanderers lost 68-5 to Mackie last weekend while Ellon were inactive.
Elsewhere in the North Conference, Mackie are at home to Caithness this time around with Highland’s second XV playing Aberdeenshire and RAF Lossiemouth taking on Moray.
The women’s Premiership also continues on Saturday and in round three of fixtures Garioch host Heriot’s Blues.