Tough Times on the North 500

Caithness 57 points Hillhead Jordanhill 14 points

The first leg of the North 500, the latest “must do” on Trip Advisor, saw the Hills bus the 110 miles from Inverness to Thurso where Caithness play on a fine late Autumn morning, having stayed overnight in the capital of the Highlands. The drive itself is wonderful, spanning the Beauly Firth, Cromarty Firth and then the Beauly Firth. Thereafter, the A9 road hugs the coast, passing the holiday villages of Golpsie, Brora and Helmsdale before ascending to the flow country of Caithness where the vistas are magnificent across to the Sutherland Munros. Thurso was reached after some 2 hours 15 minutes of a drive which reinforced perceptions of what a wonderful country Scotland is. The visit to the North will be taken only once this season by Hillhead Jordanhill, but Caithness, their hosts, are well used to the journey, travelling to the Central Belt some eleven times to fulfil their national League commitments.

The fact this report should open with an overview of part of the trip to Thurso where Caithness RFC play indicates that it will stay longer in the memory than the game which followed. On their well appointed ground with a team of well nourished backs and forwards, Caithness were ruthless in their execution of the basics, particularly in the contact areas, where Hills struggled all afternoon with their hosts physicality. The first half saw Caithness run through the phases with ease scoring four tries against Hills, but the visitors playing against a stiff breeze did have their chances. Euan Brown intercepted some ten metres from his own line and scampered ina lung bursting run some seventy metres unopposed, till he was chopped only five metres short of the Caithness line. The hosts offended at the breakdown, losing a player to the sin bin in the process, but Hills could make nothing of their numerical advantage. Second rower, Chris Warnock, rightly named Hills man of the match made some serious yards in midfield, but the recycling could make nothing of the “Green fence” in front of them. Ciaran Callaghan threatened briefly on the left flank, but a knock on close to the line ended that promise.

Turning round twenty six points adrift, it was essential Hills settled quickly, but the momentum that Caithness generated in the first forty minutes was difficult to defuse, and the visitors subsided further to two more tries. Finally after fifty five minutes Hills started playing in the Caithness twenty two and two tries followed. Tight head prop Blair Mackenzie was driven over from close range and then Bill Kenny, whose work ethic is always to be commended, scored. The second try came from a rarity in the modern game, a tight head strike by hooker Harry Perston. Euan Brown converted both and there was a faint hope this spurt would lift the Hills, but instead Caithness found their “second wind” to run in another three tries, punishing the visitors for their failures to hold onto the ball. The final victory margin of nine tries to only two served only to emphasise the disparity between the two teams.

The bus journey home of some 280 miles, punctuated by a pit stop in Pitlochry, allowed time and opportunity to anaesthetise the senses, and blank out the memory of the game. Hills now have to lift themselves several notches to be able to offer resistance to opponents Ardrossan Accies in the ninth game of the 2018/2019 NL 3 season on Saturday the 27th October; kick off at Hughenden is 15.00.

Hills 1st XV – Craig Colvin, Graham Davidson (Alban de Chaillé), Damien Genocchio, Dan Williams (C), Ciaran Callaghan (Jamie Maddox), Euan Brown, Andy Blair, Ryan Williamson, Harry Perston, Blair Mackenzie (Daryll Elvin), Bill Kenny, Chris Warnock, James Acheson, Conor Ferguson, Preston McGoldrick (Scott McMillan). Subs All used