Car­son pleased by progress af­ter step up

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - SPORT -

Aberdeen Gram­mar head coach Ali O’Con­nor feels his play­ers will have no ex­cuse for fail­ing to im­prove on their “hor­rific” 37-24 de­feat by Cartha Queen’s Park when they travel to faced Dundee High School FPs to­mor­row.

The Ru­bis­law men slipped up at home against a Glas­gow team sec­ond-bot­tom of Na­tional 1, hand­ing them only their sec­ond win of the sea­son and drop­ping Gram­mar to five de­feats in their last six games.

Player avail­abil­ity is­sues have not helped O’Con­nor, with seven miss­ing last week­end’s game. Ross An­der­son’s wed­ding ac­counted for a num­ber of those ab­sen­tees, with the likes of Robin Cess­ford and Tom Aplin re­turn­ing to this week’s squad.

But O’Con­nor will be without Sean Mills, who went off in­jured against Cartha, while Mur­ray Mitchell and Matthias Schosser are still on in­ter­na­tional duty.

They head to Dundee to­mor­row for a noon kick-off, with O’Con­nor de­mand­ing a re­sponse.

He said: “All the guys who were at the wed­ding last week are back and we’re al­most at full strength. If we don’t put in a per­for­mance, we’ve got no ex­cuses.

“The last few weeks it’s been dif­fi­cult and it was a pretty hor­rific re­sult last week.

“While the play­ers com­ing in are good play­ers, it’s con­ti­nu­ity and the re­la­tion­ship that you build up. Ev­ery­one is play­ing slightly dif­fer­ent po­si­tions and the chem­istry isn’t there.

“It prob­a­bly reached its crit­i­cal mass last Satur­day but ev­ery team in Scot­land faces these chal­lenges.”

Mur­ray Mitchell is rep­re­sent­ing Scot­land in the Rugby League Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onships. The Scots tasted de­feats in their games against Ire­land and Wales. Their fi­nal game is against France to­mor­row.

Ger­man-born Matthias Schosser, who was brought up in New Zea­land, has been on a train­ing camp with the Ger­man na­tional squad ahead of their repechage qual­i­fiers for the Rugby Union World Cup next year. Their first game is against Hong Kong on Sun­day.

O’Con­nor added: “It’s fan­tas­tic for the club and great for the in­di­vid­u­als.”

Barely seven weeks af­ter an­kle surgery, Stu­art Hogg will re­turn to the Scot­land team to play Fiji in the sec­ond au­tumn Test at BT Mur­ray­field to­mor­row as a proven “fast-starter”.

Last sea­son, coach Gre­gor Townsend saw the tal­is­manic full back come back twice from in­jury al­most straight into the team and has no rea­son to be­lieve the Glas­gow War­riors man needs fur­ther sea­son­ing be­fore re­turn­ing to his full blend of fiery-hot abil­ity.

Hogg’s re­turn is one of nine changes from the team that lost to Wales a week ago, with three fur­ther play­ers switch­ing po­si­tions.

The al­ter­ations are al­most en­tirely by prior de­sign as Townsend looks to shuf­fle in new play­ers like Sam Skin­ner and Matt Fager­son and build his depth prior to the World Cup in High­land head coach Davie Car­son aims to mark the half­way stage of the Na­tional 2 cam­paign by re­main­ing sec­ond with a vic­tory at Howe of Fife to­mor­row.

The In­ver­ness out­fit have made a strong start to the sea­son af­ter pro­mo­tion as Na­tional 3 cham­pi­ons last sea­son, win­ning all but two of their 10 fix­tures so far.

Car­son’s men will have 12 months. Hogg’s wel­fare for that event is paramount but there is no risk in giv­ing the playe an early re­call.

Townsend said: “When you’ve had ex­pe­ri­ence of some­one who has played well (im­me­di­ately) af­ter be­ing out with in­jury, like Stu­art did twice last year, then you’ll play them.

“But it’s also about how the player is feel­ing, what the medics and the strength and con­di­tion­ing team are telling you, what you’re see­ing with your own eyes. That all gets added to the mix.

“Stu­art’s trained re­ally well. He’s recorded speed times faster than most play­ers have done in Scot­land this year, so phys­i­cally he’s back at a very high level.

“That gives us con­fi­dence he’ll play well at the week­end.”

Hogg has not re­ally been away from the squad the whole time – a clear in­di­ca­tion that bring­ing him back dur­ing the au­tumn faced all their league op­po­nents by the time they have faced the sec­ond-bot­tom Fifers to­mor­row, and the Canal Park boss is thrilled by how his side has adapted.

Car­son said: “In pre­sea­son we talked about a top-four fin­ish but there were a lot of teams we had not played be­fore.

“I’m de­lighted with the way the guys have per­formed, and how play­ers have stepped up from the sec­onds when other guys Tests was al­ways go­ing to hap­pen.

Townsend said: “He’s been bend­ing the medics’ ears more than mine.

“We’ve watched closely what he’s been do­ing in train­ing. We’ve been in close con­tact with Glas­gow.

“We can see with logic and sci­ence what he’s done and what his body has told him the day af­ter train­ing.

“Two weeks ago he started full run­ning, and both him and the med­i­cal team were say­ing Fiji was a pos­si­bil­ity.

“He still had mark­ers to pass on his an­kle and how his body re­acts and copes with dif­fer­ent stresses and he’s come through that very well.”

But the ro­ta­tion of per­son­nel means that even Jonny Gray, a sta­ple for his en­tire ca­reer other than when forcibly re­quired to stay home from the sum­mer tour, must take off­time, even if it is only on the bench. have been in­jured. We sat down four weeks ago and looked at a pos­si­ble 20 points we could quite eas­ily get.

“We have al­ready picked up 15 and have one away trip to go now. With the way Howe of Fife have been, hope­fully we can get the five points down there and still be sec­ond at the half­way stage of the sea­son.”

De­spite to­mor­row’s op­po­nents hav­ing a sin­gle vic­tory to their name so far, Car­son is de­mand­ing

Townsend said: “We have to man­age Jonny, like a num­ber of play­ers, as this game will be de­mand­ing.

“Last week was very de­mand­ing for the play­ers and high stan­dards from his play­ers, adding: “Howe of Fife are down there, but it’s the same as Lass­wade last week. We have told the guys that if they don’t per­form they will get beaten.

“We per­formed re­ally well last week though, even though it wasn’t up to the high lev­els of the Ste­wart’s Melville per­for­mance the week be­fore, but we scored seven crack­ing tries.

“In the last cou­ple of years we have had a good South Africa and Ar­gentina will be huge chal­lenges.

“We be­lieve this squad is a blend of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers, play­ers who didn’t play last week com­ing back away record as well as at home, we have got into that win­ning men­tal­ity.

“We have had one wee slip up and one other game we should not have lost away from home, but we have shown we are quite com­fort­able go­ing away and putting on the same per­for­mances as we do at home.”

High­land are without flanker Os­car Baird who is rep­re­sent­ing Pro­jecx Water­boys, a Scot­tish se­lect, at the Co­bra 10s in Kuala Lumpur.

UP AND RUN­NING: Stu­art Hogg had surgery on an an­kle just seven weeks ago but Gre­gor Townsend be­lieves the tal­is­manic full-back can start against Fiji

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