Highland’s rugby players came within a whisker of being the first team to beat National One champions Ayr this season on Saturday, a late penalty from winger Dan Corr missing by the narrowest of margins in a 12-10 defeat.
The third-laced Inverness outfit travelled to Millbrae with the hosts having secured the title thanks to a 94-24 thumping of GHK in mid-December.
Ayr had won 14 from 14 league games and scored over 650 points in the process before kick-off while Highland had won eight and drawn one of 13 games, but had a slight wobble before the Christmas break.
As such, it was going to be a big ask for Highland to notch up an away win against Ayr, but they gave it everything and put in a cracking performance only to just come out on the wrong side of things after a battle.
Things looked ominous early on when Ayr second-row Joe Stafford scored a converted try after five minutes and when the home side added a converted try just before the half hour mark it was 12-0.
Before that Highland had missed a couple of penalties, but then centre Michael Gray nearly set up winger Magnus Henry for a try and they did get on the scoreboard before the break.
It came from full-back Adriu Muritoki who chipped ahead and then collected his own kick to score a cracking try which was converted by Corr.
That made it 12-7 with 40 minutes to go.
In the second half, Ayr lost a player to the sin bin before Corr’s penalty with 20 minutes to go reduced the arrears to 12-10.
At one stage in the latter part of the match Highland were down to 13 men with tighthead prop Patrick Ratumaisese and replacement Callum Boyd both being yellow carded, but the visitors kept battling away and Ayr could not score any more points.
With about 10 minutes to go Highland had a great break out of their own 22 from Gray and he just could not find the support players when required and a chance had gone.
Then with the last kick of the game a penalty from Corr shaved the right hand side of the post and missed, meaning that Ayr had help on for a two-point victory after an excellent match.
Highland took a losing bonus point from proceedings and head coach Dave Carson said: “The boys were excellent.
“They executed everything that we had worked on during training over the festive period and we really took things to Ayr.
“Ayr have been beating teams with ease at times, but they knew they were in a real game here from start to finish.
“We managed to deal with their impressive driving maul pretty well and we also stopped their big runners getting too much momentum when on the ball.
“Going 12-0 down, we could have gone onto the back foot, but the boys stuck to the game plan and the try before half-time gave them real belief.
“The second half was very tight and we had chances to get over the line and that would have been great, but I cannot fault the boys’ efforts at all and we played as well here as we were playing at in the opening months of the season.
“Hopefully we can take heart from this performance into the rest of the league season and into the Scottish Cup.”
The Caledonia One North Conference match between Caithness and Ellon was beaten by the weather.
Meanwhile, former Garioch player Panashe Muzambe started at loosehead prop as Edinburgh Rugby’s women as they were beaten 27-17 by the Wolfhounds in the Celtic Challenge on Saturday at Hive Stadium.
Centre Emma Orr’s converted try had Edinburgh ahead before the Irish side, with more international experience in their squad, then scored three unconverted tries to lead 15-7 at half-time.
In front of a crowd of 903, Wolfhounds scored two second half tries as they earned a bonus point before late tries came for Edinburgh from winger Cieron Bell and Scotland cap Orr.