WHEN near neighbours and derby rivals, Aberdeen Grammar and Highland, clash in the final of the National League Cup at Bridgehaugh in Stirling on Saturday, it will not only be a competitive occasion to savour, but an end of season party for the North and North East to enjoy after a campaign of success for the Caledonia region.
For not only have the two protagonists reached a national final, but both have been promoted, in Grammar’s case from National League One to the newly constructed Premiership, while Highland have enjoyed their second step-up in leagues and will now grace the division their opponents have just left.
Both areas of Scotland have been sleeping giants for too long, and Saturday gives their respective leading clubs the opportunity to strut their stuff on the national stage, even if the competition has not enjoyed the highest profile on its way to a conclusion.
Commendably, in a bid to bring as many people from Caledonia together, the organisers have enterprisingly made this event a double-header with the two clubs’ 2nd XVs meeting at 1pm on Caley 2 North business, giving the Raptors (Highland’s shadow team) the chance to end the season with a 100% record in the division.
The final will kick off at 3pm when, not surprisingly, the higher ranked Grammar will be hot favourites to land their first silverware in years, not that head coach Ali O’Connor will be underestimating Dave Carson, his opposite number, who has already seen off the challenge of highflying National One opposition in the shape of Musselburgh in the semi-final.
According to Duncan Sellar, the Grammar club’s dedicated public relations official, the omens look good for his Rubislaw side. “Grammar’s pack has been one of the most dominant in National League One, thanks to the coaching skills of Iain Stanger, whose first club was Highland,” he said. “We have also scored 29 tries in four games on our way to the final, while stand-off and captain Sam Knudson has been a key link between our formidable pack and clinical backs.
“But we have not forgotten that Highland beat us in the first round of this competition last season, so we are well aware of the threat they bring to this game. It’s a huge day for us all, and one to cherish.”
Highland are also blessed with an all action pack, who, like their opponents, have scored a barrowload of tries during their successful National League Two campaign.
“Our strength lies in our teamwork,” he said. “We work for each other, and have dug deep on many, many occasions. I don’t expect Saturday to be any different. We are going to enjoy the day whatever the outcome, and to meeting up with our Caley friends from Aberdeen.”
The Canal Park side are likely to be best served by their pacy back-three, who include full-back Rupeni Rokoduguni, who pulverised Musselburgh with his last minute try to win a dramatic place in the final; but there are others, including their backline organiser, centre and co-captain Rory Cross.
Should the game be decided by place kicking, stand off Rory Carson can be relied upon as can full-back Bryn Perrott for Grammar, although it is more likely the game will be won by the free running backs of both sides who have ensured it will be a day to remember for all at Bridgehaugh.
Highland: Rupeni Rokoduguni; Connor Ross, Rory Cross, Seamus Ross, Jesse Nawacaleru; Rory Carson, Ruaridh MacDonald; Lewis Sinclair, Kevin Brown, Murdo Paterson, Oscar Baird, Sean Blair, Callum Carson, Gordon Gregor, Calum Macpherson. Subs: Stewart Watson, Jonny Milton, Ben Gordon, Nathan McLaughlin, Iain Chisholm, Craig Irvine, Magnus Henry.