THE resilience of Highland impressed head coach Dave Carson as they saw off Haddington despite losing three key players on the eve of the game.
Captain Stuart MacDonald and backs Iain Chisholm and Tom Brogan were all ruled out on Friday, meaning a reshuffle before kick-off for Carson.
However, the hosts were more than good enough for their five-point win, coming out on top 31-10 against the side that beat them at home last season.
All three players will be assessed this week ahead of the trip to Murrayfield Wanderers, with MacDonald and Brogan (both knee) and Chisholm (back) key contributors to date.
“We lost our eight, nine and 10 on the eve of the game but boys that came in did really well,” said Carson. “Dealing with something like that is a massive change to years gone by.
“Iain’s back injury didn’t clear up in time, Tom took a knock in training on Thursday and Stuart’s knee swelled up and we weren’t going to risk him.”
31-10 win for the 1st Xv over Haddington. A second successive Bonus point win to start the season. Tries from... https://t.co/f0OivLs17l— Highland RFC (@HighlandRFC) September 10, 2017
It meant a return to the side for Erem Demirel, with Grant Young moving to six and Callum Carson taking MacDonald’s spot at eight. Full-back Ruaridh MacDonald moved to scrum-half and Craig Irvine replaced Chisholm.
Before the kick-off there was a minute silence held in memory of former player Peter Flockhart who passed away suddenly last week. With the home support hoping for the rain to hold off the game started in perfect conditions.
The initial exchanges were at some pace and although the play was evenly shared Highland put some nice phases together. It was from a good attack that a loose pass was intercepted and run in by Haddington, from some distance, for a converted try.
Highland looked slightly rattled and with the visitors pressing a penalty was given away for the home side to trail 10-0. However, Highland always looked dangerous out wide and this provided a way back
With good ball going wide the backs saw the forwards come up in support leading to Carson going close to the line. He was well tackled but not before getting the ball away towards Demirel in support but before he could get hands on the ball, he was tackled prematurely. The referee blew up and awarded a penalty try which seemed to stun Haddington.
The home side were now showing up well and they put together far more attacking moves. The next score came as Rory Cross burst through into space to cross the line and with Scott Fraser’s conversion Highland were in the lead 14-10. The home side were now in charge but just as they were putting the moves together, the rain started. Even though it was light drizzle at first the ball became difficult to handle and errors crept in.
Despite this, Highland kept up the pressure and another drive saw Lyall Archer dive over giving the visitors a lot of grief as they thought he had the ball knocked away before touching down. Yet the referee was right on the spot and gave the score. Fraser again converted and Highland led 21-10 at the break.
The second-half kicked-off in heavy rain and the game was very scrappy with handling again suffering, yet Highland stayed in control. Throughout the patchy sequences of play the home side saw a fourth try for the bonus point from Fraser who converted his own try for 28-10. Haddington were much aggrieved by earlier decisions but did not learn from the mistakes and continued to infringe.
Continual offsides and tackling the man without the ball led to two successive yellow cards which made life so much easier for Highland. The infringements yielded a kickable penalty which Fraser converted to end the scoring and game at 31-10. This was a good win as Haddington had been a handful for Highland last season, especially in the poor playing conditions later on.
“We just need to realise it’s an 80-minute game and we’ve got a great defence,” said Carson. “We can keep knocking them back and don’t need to rush things.”
Also in action on Saturday were Highland’s under-18s playing in the Shogun Conference against Boroughmuir. Highland put in a solid performance for a 32-10 victory although the match was close for much of the game. Tries came from a Jake Henry hat-trick and single score by Richie Dinnes. Jamie Carson kicked two penalties and three conversions.