10 Feb 2018

The Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers went down 15-12 to Bloomberg HK Scottish in the Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership on Saturday but it mattered little, with their journey from easy beats to league champions complete.

Societe Generale Valley’s 22-10 loss to Natixis HKFC helped Tigers’ cause and also saw HKFC jump into second spot and earn a week off in the opening round of the play-offs, while the final game of the round saw Kowloon ease past Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC 41-21.

For Tigers, it is time to celebrate before turning their attention to the grand championship play-offs.

“I think it’s huge for the club, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been here four years and the first couple of years we didn’t win a game,” coach Sam Hocking said.

“There are boys that have been at the club longer than that and not won anything. It’s big for the club on a whole.”

The news of their success – if it had indeed filtered down to the players – did little to curb Tigers’ drive in the opening minutes, with Casey Stone dotting down to open the scoring for the home side.

Fly half Robbie Keith converted, while the only other score in the opening quarter of the match was a penalty from Scottish 10 Gregor McNeish as Tigers led 7-3.

McNeish was to leave the field soon after with a shoulder injury, leaving a huge hole in the Scottish backline.

Scoring proved hard to come by for a time, with both sides struggling to turn half-chances into points.

It was Scottish who found the breakthrough, with No 8 Josh Dowsing driving over the line; scrum half Charles Cheung’s conversion gave Scottish a 10-7 lead with eight minutes remaining in the half.

Scottish kept the pressure on at the breakdown and used their strength up forward to continue gaining territory, however the score remained the same at half-time after Cheung was unable to convert a penalty kick.

Tigers looked reinvigorated after the break, with Braam Gerber crossing in quick time to wrest back the lead 12-10 for his side.

A lengthy period of dour rugby was followed by some brilliance by Scottish, with replacement Jack Wardle finishing off a classy play to give the visitors a 15-12 lead with six minutes to go.

Despite some nervy moments late, Scottish hung on to extend their winning streak to three and ensure they head into the play-offs with the momentum behind them.

“We said we had to knock over these top teams and to knock over Football Club last week and these guys this week puts us in a good position to have a good little run going into the finals,” Scottish coach Craig Hammond said.

For Hocking, the loss was a timely reminder of what it will take to win the grand championship.

“I think it highlighted a few issues that we have and to be honest it gives the boys the kick up the bum they needed. We went for the win, none of the boys knew about the result and only had Scottish on our mind,” he said.

“Fair play to them, they played really well, in the second half their scrum came back at us and we just made too many errors.”

The quarter-finals in two weeks see Scottish host Kowloon and HKCC travel to take on old rivals Valley, while Tigers and HKFC are straight through to the semi-finals.

In the Old Mutual International Championship, second-placed Natixis HKFC Scorpions ran out 24-13 winners against ECO Gai Wu Rebels, for a record-setting six-week hold on the Old Mutual International Championship Challenge Cup. Next match, on 24 February, they defend the Cup against unbeaten league leaders Vistra Typhoons.