club scene Rankin's boys on sharp learning curve

Ian Rankin, the Scottish author, has just revived his greatest creation, Rebus, and pitted him into another labyrinthine mystery which the Cardenden cop finally manages to crack.

Ian Rankin, the Dundee HSFP rugby coach, in contrast, is still grappling with the vagaries of a season where his side can triumph against semi-professionals in the British & Irish Cup, yet be fighting to save their skins in the RBS Premiership.

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Such is life these days for the steely characters who have to combine passion with pragmatism on the domestic circuit, while striving to ignore the recent slew of dreadful results for the country's national XV and pro teams in Europe.

But, almost unnoticed in the bigger picture, the Scottish clubs have been punching above their weight in the cross-border competition, as illustrated by the fashion in which Dundee beat Carmarthen Quins 25-23 at Mayfield on Saturday, even as Stirling County were orchestrating a heroic 26-25 win over Bedwas in Wales, and Gala were being cruelly denied by Moseley, a side they had previously beaten in the event.

For Rankin, pictured, these results simply accentuated the improvements which the grassroots players have made from being allowed to test themselves at a higher level, but he was also impressed with the manner in which the Scotland stand-off, Duncan Weir, responded to being thrust into the fray for Dundee at the weekend. "It's a step up for our boys, a massive step up, in some cases, and in terms of the physicality and the way the English and Welsh clubs close down the space and just keep coming at you for 80 minutes, our guys have had to be fast learners," said Rankin, who is delighted his charges have been handed this challenge rather than participating in regional cup contests where the only question is how many points the big boys will score.

"Duncan's attitude was first class and the joy on his face at the climax told you how much the victory meant to him and I genuinely believe everybody in the Scottish game has to realise we are all in this together. Let's be frank, our rugby is in a pretty poor place at the moment, but there are lots of talented youngsters around, and if we can help them gain game time and they can show our amateur boys some of the qualities you need to flourish when you step up, then everybody benefits. I also think that we should be talking up the B & I Cup campaign a little more, because it isn't like against like, but the Scots have achieved some terrific results in the last few months. Stirling getting the better of Bedwas was an excellent outcome and ours was a good win as well, because Carmarthen were tough opponents. Yes, there can be some mismatches in this competition, but that applies equally to the Scottish Cup – Heriots, for instance, racked up 100 points against Lasswade, which, for me, is no good to anybody, either the victors or the vanquished."

Dundee entertain the Goldenacre personnel this weekend, and the beetle-browed Rankin appreciates that his men have no room for manoeuvre on either side of the festive period. As things stand, they are ninth in the Premiership, one behind the County set and five adrift of Aberdeen GSFP, who have to journey to high-flying Gala, and have played one fixture more than their north-east rivals.

But it's tight, and likely to remain so as the winter continues. "There is nothing between half a dozen of the [10] league teams, so you have to scrap and fight and defend when you need to and seize your chances," said Rankin.