MILLBANK is expected to be buzzing tomorrow as Caithness RFC launches its 50th anniversary season with a glamour match versus a side laced with former Scottish internationalists.
The visiting Xodus Steelers squad has been assembled by Rowen Shepherd who played for Thurso High and Caithness before embarking on a playing career which won him 20 caps at full-back.
Now the co-owner of an Edinburgh-based sports agency, the 41-year-old represents a clutch of top sports personalities as well as doing media work.
The visiting squad is coached by former Scottish coach Frank Hadden and contains nine former caps including Shepherd himself, Duncan Hodge, Stuart Reid, Craig Joiner, Derrick Lee and Cammy Mather.
The Greens warmed up for the game with an outing to Invergordon last Saturday when they chalked up a 101-0 win over Ross Sutherland in a game split into four quarters.
The difference in fitness levels and organisation between the teams allowed Caithness to run in 15 tries in the friendly.
It is some way short of the club’s record victory – a 132-0 home walloping of Banff in 2003 while fly-half Liam Brims’s 31 points haul from a try and 13 conversions left him two short of the all-time individual points record.
The other tries came from number eight Evan Sutherland (4), flanker and captain Stevie Campbell (2), scrum-half Kris Hamilton (2), prop John Miller, centres Douglas Webster and Marc Anderson, lock Roddie Gray, winger Martin Oswald and replacement scrum-half Brian Sutherland.
Coach Colin Sangster was happy enough with the run-out though he would have liked his squad to have been stretched a bit more.
He said: “The game was fairly competitive in the opening stages and they came at us pretty hard in the first 10 minutes.
“But once we got into our stride, they couldn’t live with the tempo we played at.
“We were winning quick ball and regularly changing the point of our attack and once we were a few tries up, their heads went down and the second and third quarters were a bit of a mismatch.”
Ross suffered the indignity at one stage of losing three tries from successive kick-offs.
Sangster was happy that the extra fitness work done in the pre-season looks to have paid dividends.
“We look to be a great deal fitter than we have been for a long time,” said Sangster, who is coaching the 1st team in the spare time he has from his day job as the club development officer.
“There were a lot of positives to take from the outing but it also highlighted a lot of things we need to work on and we’ve been trying to address them in training this week.”
The major downside was an ankle injury sustained by winger Martin Oswald in the act of scoring his try. It looks like putting him out of action for three weeks or so while a similar injury has sidelined Gavin Sutherland from tomorrow’s match.
Sangster is relishing the prospect of locking horns with tomorrow’s illustrious opponents, who may be long in the tooth but who have kept themselves in condition and who are using the match as part of their preparation for their involvement in the international veterans’ tourney in Dubai later in the year.
Sangster said: “This is a really good test for the side before the league season gets under way. We’ve got absolutely nothing to lose – it’s a one-off game and for our guys it’s a great opportunity to play against a side featuring guys who played at the highest level in the game. It’s something they can treasure for the rest of their lives and I’ll be telling them to just go out and enjoy themselves.”
The match, which is sponsored by Webster Crop Services, kicks off at 3pm.