THE selection of Jake Henry for the Scotland under-18 squad is a huge fillip for Highland.
That is the view of the club’s development officer Iain Chisholm, who has watched Henry extensively with the club’s under-18s and second string.
Henry was named in a 37-man training squad, by national under-18 coach Iain Monaghan on Friday, less than a week after making his senior debut for Highland.
His attitude in training as well as his performances on the field have impressed Chisholm, who has seen the flying winger throw himself into everything asked of him.
Already a BT Academy-supported player, Henry has featured extensively for the under-18s so far this season but was called up to Highland’s seconds for the win over RAF Lossiemouth on November 28. Alongside fellow teenager Richie Dinnes, he made his debut and shone in the 29-21 win.
First-team head coach Dave Carson was keen to see how he fared in the seniors and gave him his chance from the bench against Perthshire 10 days ago, entertaining the crowd with a few lightning darts from his position on the wing.
Chisholm, who combines his work as a coach with playing for the firsts, is full of praise for how Henry has applied himself and believes it is a tremendous achievement to gain national recognition.
“We talk to parents about what they want their son or daughter to be described as and the main things we get back are respectable and coachable,” said Chisholm. “Jake is always wanting feedback and he gives his own thoughts too. He’s great for the younger kids; he never mumps about what we’re doing and is very vocal in the sessions.
“He’s an exciting player who can beat the first and second tackle. We set targets as a team, as units and individuals and we want Jake on the ball at least 10 times a game. The more he’s on the ball, the more opportunities we get to score.
“His parents want the best for him and drive him to Stirling to make sure he doesn’t miss out on anything. It’s a brilliant achievement for him to be selected as you don’t get that many opportunities up here. It’s usually players in the central belt.”
The success of the club’s youth setup, overhauled by Chisholm prior to the start of the season, is also something to be proud of.
Chisholm brought in an academy setup at Highland and has 64 players from schools across the region. He plans to progress players up through the respective age groups after Christmas.
“We have five or six guys helping with the academy and I like to call them influencers, rather than coaches, as they’re just influencing the way the kids are playing,” said Chisholm. “We do exercises where tries are not worth as much as doing something creative. We’ve got night-club clickers to count the creative or resilient moments. We don’t want our play to be too structured – we want it to be creative.”
On the playing side of things it has been a frustrating time for Chisholm, who has struggled with abdominal and adductor problems since the start of the season. He hopes to make a return to playing in the new year.
Highland’s weekend schedule, as much of the Scottish rugby calendar, was wiped out at the weekend due to snow, which Chisholm believes needs to prompt a rethink as far as winter rugby is concerned.
“We need some sort of winter break as nearly all the games were called off,” he said. “I was down at Murrayfield on Friday and they were pulling covers on pitches – even that didn’t help.
“The season is too long as it is but you need better quality rugby. I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning, sees a howling gale and snow coming down and is wanting to play. We need to start putting players at the centre of things.”