31 Jan 2020

A clean slate faces the last four clubs standing in the Saxo Markets Grand Championships play-offs tomorrow at Hong Kong Football Club.


With the same semi pairings as a year ago, observers will be eagerly awaiting to see if the results are similar to last year’s dramatic penultimate rugby weekend, when Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish and Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay overturned their more fancied competitors (Societe Generale Valley and Natixis HKFC respectively) to set up a debutants ball in the grand final with Sandy Bay ultimately emerging victorious 26-23.


With the Saxo Markets Premiership proving another tight affair this year, coming down to the final game of the season between Club and Valley for the title, (defended by HKFC in a convincing win), a repeat could be on the cards in tomorrow’s elite rugby action.


Like last year, the odds are stacked against the upstarts with Sandy Bay, fourth placed finishers in the league, lining up against top ranked Football Club, while second placed Valley finished nine points clear of third ranked Scottish on the Premiership table.


Club remain the deepest and most consistent side in Hong Kong Rugby circles for a second season, with coach Jack Wiggins on record as saying his side is even stronger than in his first season last year, while out west Sandy Bay have been struggling to reach the same steady standard this season.


Sandy Bay has dropped both Premiership games against Club this season, 15-28 back in October and 17-31 earlier this month. Despite these results, the players know that anything can happen in finals footy time. Squad veterans will well remember upturning the apple cart this time last year with a shock 31-10 upset at Sports Road that ended Football Club’s bid for the double in 2019.


With a strong squad including Hong Kong stars Liam Slatem, Sebastian Brien, Mark Prior and Alexander Post, fearsome ball carriers Ben Davey and Luke Van der Smit and captain Gair Currie and the versatile Jack Metters out wide, Sandy Bay once again hope to derail Club’s plans. 


Scottish meanwhile have the dubious pleasure of facing off against a Valley side that failed to perform to its own lofty standards on its last outing, dropping the league at home to Club, and will be keen to redress that come grand championship time.


Scottish also have to face the burden of results this season with 17-50 and 19-35 losses to Valley in their two Premiership battles, Scottish’s sole win over the islanders came during the Challenge trophy competition to start the season. With Valley facing the prospect of a second straight season bereft of silverware Scottish coach Craig Hammond expects a backlash.


“Valley deserve their place in the top two, they have played good rugby throughout the year. We know what they bring in terms of their physical dominance; they have strong ball carriers and a couple of real game breakers. They know what we like to do also, so I am sure that they will be looking to counter that and keep us off our game.”


Scottish will have one of its strongest assemblies of the season on the park with eight Hong Kong caps in the starting 23, including nearly the full forward pack with Dayne Jans and Fai Solomona in the front row, Kyle Sullivan at lock, Kane Boucaut and Josh Dowsing in the back row, and prop Jack Parfitt coming off the reserves bench.


“We are fortunate to have kept the same squad together pretty much for the last three games, and as a result, we have gotten three wins from those games, and had close runs with Valley and Football Club before those,” said Hammond.


“The boys are pretty confident coming in, but the odds are stacked against us. We love to be in that situation, of underdogs or whatever you want to call it - it’s good for us.


“It’s semi finals time so you can throw the form book out of the window, it all comes down to who can outperform or outsmart the other for 80 minutes now,” added Hammond.


Notes for spectators:

After careful consideration and consultation, the HKRU has decided to proceed with the Saxo Markets Grand Championship semi finals. In light of the coronavirus situation, all games will be played at HKFC with no admittance for spectators. All games will be live-streamed on the HKRU Facebook page. We know that there will be many fans disappointed at not being able to attend, but we hope that everyone will understand these measures are being taken to help mitigate health risks. The HKRU would like to thank our sponsors and the clubs for their support, and particularly HKFC for making the games possible in extremely challenging circumstances.