10 Mar 2018

Societe Generale Valley claimed its sixth straight HKRU Men’s Grand Championship title after holding off a furious second half fight back from Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers to win 22-20 tonight at Kings Park. It was the sixth straight win for Valley in the Grand Final.

The game was a slow-burn in the first half as both sides fought each other to a standstill, with the only difference being the left boot of Valley and Hong Kong fly-half Ben Rimene, who finished the opening half a perfect five for five from the tee.

Rimene’s first strike came in the third minute from 50 metres out. He added two more penalties in the first quarter before Tigers had their first penalty opportunity, which was missed by another Hong Kong fly-half in Tigers no.10 Robbie Keith.

Keith made amends in the 31st minute as he converted a chip shot penalty from 22 metres out to put Tigers on the board trailing 9-3.

Rimene extended the lead late in the half with his fourth penalty coming from in close to extend Valley’s lead to 12-3. He was successful on another long effort in the 38th minute to give Valley a 15-3 lead going into half time.

Valley looked to be carrying its momentum into the second half when flanker Nick Hewson emerged from the middle of a maul with ball in hand. Hewson’s half break gained Valley’s forwards ten metres of breathing space and that was all the defending grand champions needed as they moved the ball quickly out wide to the waiting hands of winger Josh Gordon who touched down for the game’s first try in the 45th minute.

Rimene’s conversion was true and Valley were sitting pretty on a 22-3 lead, but Tigers clawed their way back into the game in what has been a trademark for the Old Mutual International league champions this season.

Robbie Keith was the first to cross the line for the Kings Park club, capping off a long build-up of phase play by the Tigers deep in Valley’s half.

Keith gathered the ball from a ruck after Tigers had put in over a dozen attacking phases beneath Valley’s posts. Keith found the smallest gap between two onrushing defenders to crash over the line. His conversion from just left of the posts was good and Tigers found themselves trailing by 12 points with 30 minutes remaining.

Keith again figured prominently from the re-start, putting in an excellent nudge with the boot to turn the Valley attack around with a deep touch-finder in Valley territory. With their backs up and moving in the right direction, the Tigers forwards responded well keeping the Valley pack on the back foot from the ensuing line-out.

Tigers kept Valley pinned deep in their half and eventually turned the ball over after Valley were penalized for not releasing.

The Tigers resumed their patient attacks on the Valley line going through another dozen phases when Keith looked to have crossed the line for a second try but referee Matt Rodden deemed the attack to have come up short of the line.

Valley regained possession from the scrum and were looking to clear their lines when a brilliant individual effort from Tigers’ back Liam Gallaher turned the game on its head.

Gallaher charged down the Valley clearance kick and corralled the ball before it crossed the dead-ball line to score the Tigers’ second try in ten minutes. Keith’s conversion was successful, pulling Tigers to within a try with 18 minutes left as they trailed 22-17.

Gallaher had a second charge down moments later as Tigers resumed their unrelenting pressure with 10 minutes remaining in regulation time. It was a nerve-wracking period for Valley who never regained possession, instead relying on a disciplined defensive effort to stave off waves of Tigers’ attacks.

Tigers captain Josh Hrstich came up big a late in the proceedings, as he claimed a lineout for the Tigers deep in Valley’s half and managed to break through the Valley defensive line to find some rare space around the fringes.

The momentary lapse in their defensive structures saw Valley scrambling to get behind the ball and ultimately conceding a late penalty chance for Tigers.

Keith dutifully slotted the 30-metre chance to bring Tigers to within a penalty, down 22-20, with seven minutes remaining.

Tigers threw everything at Valley’s defensive line, with over 30 attacking phases inside Valley’s 22-metres in the final moments. Valley’s defense and discipline held and ultimately Tigers spilled the ball with Valley fly-hacking it into touch to trigger the final whistle on a thrilling HKRU Grand Final.

Valley coach Andrew Kelly was both relieved and proud of his side’s effort saying, “Those last few minutes were superb. Tigers started on their own 10-metres and came right down to our line but we were quite calm and composed and I think that showed.

“It's a shame that we let them back in. You don’t want to have to defend a lead like we did but we did well to build a good score early on and that was really the only difference. We didn't have much territory tonight, but when we did, we came away with points.”

Kelly credited Rimene for being the difference maker in the first half.

“I think we built a good lead early on and Ben was absolutely spot on. I don’t think he missed a kick tonight and he controlled the game quite well.

“Tigers have had a great season and were league winners deservedly. They were the most consistent side right through the league and just came up short today. We are delighted to have got that win,” Kelly added.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster out there,” said a drained Valley captain Martin Muller.

“It was sort of the story of our season tonight. We get into games; start well and get a few points then let we them back in. 100% our experience [in the Grand Final] helped us tonight.

“We pride ourselves on not losing matches in March, which we haven’t done for the last five years. We knew we were up against it at the end and we just talked about not over-committing. We know this referee likes to give the attacking team the advantage, so we just had to sit back and let them make a mistake. I think it took 30 phases but eventually it happened,” Muller said.

Tigers captain Josh Hrstich came away ready to play another 80 minutes saying, “It definitely hurts. Valley are a quality side and they’ve been in this position so many times, but I’m really proud of my guys and we will be better for that run in the final.

“I think that Valley’s experience told a bit tonight. They kicked three or four penalties early on and really got out to the races. We knew we would be able to come back and get a sniff but we just let them get away too far.

“To be the regular season champions and to lose to a team that has won the grand championship the last six years, and to have pushed them to two points and ultimately have a shot at winning it, I think it shows that there is something special brewing at Tigers.

“It’s a long off-season now and we are definitely going to remember that one,” promised Hrstich.

In other HKRU Grand Championship action today, Eco Gai Wu Falcons best Societe Generale Valley ladies 31-10 to take the double in the KPMG Women’s Premiership.

Vistra Typhoons beat Eco Gai Wu Rebels 55-21 to win the Old Mutual International Championship. Valley Knights beat Natixis HKFC Dragons 27-15 to win the Men’s Premiership A grand final while HKFC Bulls beat Valley Mavericks 21-0 to claim the HKRU National League 1 Grand Championship title.

HKFC Sequins beat HKCC Raiders 15-3 in the National League 2 final while Vistra Typhoons blanked Valley Stallions 23-0 in Men’s National League 3A.