08th Feb 2020

It took 95 minutes of end to end, extra time action and nine penalties to establish superiority in tonight’s Saxo Markets Grand Championship final between defending league champions Natixis HKFC and contenders Societe Generale Valley.


Ultimately it was the Premiership champions HKFC celebrating after fly half Glyn Hughes’ fifth penalty of the night, coming deep in the second period of golden point extra time, sealed the treble for a deserving HKFC side that have been the class of this year’s competition. The Sports Road outfit added the grand final trophy to a seasonal silverware tally that also includes the Premiership cup and the Premiership Challenge Trophy.


All of those wins came at the expense of Valley, the stalking horse to HKFC all season long. Tonight’s penalties only win marks a clean sheet for Club against their neighbours and rivals in Happy Valley and for the third time on the trot, the final margin between the two was negligible. Hughes proved the difference after slotting five of seven penalty chances to Valley fly half Ben Rimene’s four tonight.


Club staked their position out early on with Hughes lining up for his first attempt from over 55 metres in the fourth minute, which ran out of steam just short of the crossbar.  


Moments later, Club looked to have scored the first try when a slashing run from battering ram centre Tom Hill looked to have set up flanker Tom Stanley to breach the line. Somehow Valley scrumhalf Ruan Duplooy came up with the heroics, holding up Stanley over the line.


Eventually Club would get on the board the easy way, after a successful strike from Hughes, who doubled the lead to 6-0 with a second penalty moments in the opening quarter. Hughes added a third shot after 27 minutes, before Valley scored their first points, through Rimene, to leave the score at 9-3 at the break.


As the score indicated there was nothing between the two sides with both creating opportunities as play bounced from end to end at a frenetic pace. As the minutes wore on it became increasingly clear that neither team was able to penetrate the solid defensive lines in front of them.


The second half proved as tight as the first after Valley drew level in the third quarter off of two penalties from Rimene left the score tied 9-9 with 30 minutes remaining.


The game hovered around midfield for most of the second half with neither side able to press home any sustained advantage, and discipline becoming more and more of a factor.  Club would win that battle after Hughes was given a fourth penalty chance, which he slotted on the hour marker to give his side a 12-9 edge entering the final quarter.


A pressing Valley at times lost composure, with some ill conceived kicks from hand returning possession to Football Club at key moments late in the match. For its part, Club never let up on the defensive pressure with lock Jevon Groves seemingly everywhere down the home stretch and in extra time as he produced three key turnovers for his side in pivotal moments.  Club were rewarded for their work rate on 70 minutes with another penalty, but the pressure told on Hughes as he failed to ice the game late.

The normally surefooted Welsh 10 missed a second chance moments later after being on the wrong end of a high tackle leaving the game in the balance. Valley capitalized on 79 minutes when they were awarded a chance to tie with a penalty from 30 metres out. Rimene coolly slotted his chance to send the game into golden point extra time.


The first 10-minute period was as frenetic as the 80 minutes prior, with both sides attacking and defending with abandon, with numerous turnovers coming in an action packed ten minutes.


Vitally, both sides maintained their discipline as the penalty opportunities dried up late. After the first ten minute extra time produced no points, the squads returned for a final ten-minute thriller, which if still scoreless at the end would have seen HKFC take the tile on points differential.


Before that unappealing ending could take place, Club centre Ben Axten-Burrett, (who had a try disallowed for a forward pass earlier in the second half), turned the game on its head when he cut against the grain of Valley’s defence to charge 80 metres into Valley’s 22. Club were strong in support as they sought to press their rare advantage past Valley’s scrambling defensive effort, earning another penalty chance for Hughes, who wasted no time in converting from 30 metres to seal the memorable win.


A delighted HKFC coach Jack Wiggins credited Valley post-game, saying, “It went all the way to the end, like we knew it would. Congratulations to Valley and Ned Kelly on the job they have done this season, it was an unbelievably tough game and they have achieved so much this year.


“But overall, I think we have been the best side all season. Today we won the tactical battle, and crucially we stayed in the fight. It came down to the last play like we knew it would, but we’ve done the triple, which will go down in history at the Club and I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.


“We have had two really good seasons and the challenge now for us as coaches and players is can you do it three years in a row, and that’s exciting for all of us.”


Wiggins credited his side’s defensive effort as key to the win. “Defence is something we pride ourselves in. Being able to get off the line and continuously tackle is built into our culture and the strides we have made in our defence the last few seasons have been huge for us.


“We talked all season long about winning all three trophies. Some teams might state that as a goal and move on, but with this group of players there is no excuses. This will hopefully set the standard at Club for the next five years, but we will celebrate the win tonight first.”


A disappointed Valley captain Rob Lennox, who repeatedly dented Club’s defensive line with his flailing carries tonight, called the loss “gutting”: “These games have been tight all season and they came away with the two wins in the league. We squandered a few chances tonight while they took their opportunities well but I’m proud of the way the boys fought back. Unfortunately we gave away a cheap penalty at the end and congrats to them for having the guts and ability to slot it.”


Lennox put the occasion in perspective with Valley stalwart Andrew Kelly set to return to Scotland after the grand final after eight years at Valley.


“Like I said to the boys, tonight is not the time to reflect on rugby. Tonight is for us to enjoy the season we have had, enjoy each other and appreciate what wearing this shirt is about. Tonight we will celebrate each other and look to come back next year better, and absolutely we will be back.”


His HKFC counterpart Cam Wakeley was pleased to close out a long campaign by achieving pre-season goals:


“Our culture at Club is really strong. We spend a lot of time together and are a really tight knit group who have come together over the last few seasons.


“Last year, I think we sold ourselves short maybe after finishing the league at the top maybe we got ahead of ourselves. This year we came in a bit better grounded and having now won the treble I can tell you it tastes sweeter when it takes a long time coming,” Wakeley added.