30 Nov 2020

A last minute take against the head and ensuing drop goal from fly half Glyn Hughes lifted Natixis HKFC over Societe Generale Valley 16-14 at Sports Road today in a huge win for the home side.  Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers strung together their second victory on the trot to beat Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish 20-15 and vault into tied third in the standings.  In the early game Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay held on to a 15-6 half time lead to beat DAC Kowloon, 23-13, and claim second place in the standings.


It was a classic Club-Valley clash with five lead changes and a margin that never exceeded a try over 80 minutes of rugby played with no quarter asked or given. Both sides overcame injuries to put on the most entertaining tie since last year’s grand final where these two heavyweights battled in an added time thriller, with Hughes again coming through late.


“We both have lots of injuries so it is a testament to the strength or both clubs that we managed to put on such a show,” said HKFC coach Jack Wiggins, who was delighted to see an improved effort from his team in a big moment.


“We have not played as well as we wanted to the last three weeks, and today was certainly better. We talk a lot about clutch moments and once again proved that is part of our game. Last week, we get a tight-head scrum on the five-metres line and this week the same, and the drop kick to win.


“You come together in adversity and we proved that again today. We have a lot of guys who are happy in that kind of pressure. It’s still not perfect but you will always take a win like that,” he said.


HKFC had the superior start, enjoying the run of play in an attacking first half where they dominated possession and territory.  Valley squandered their early chances, which were few and far between, with inaccurate play, but the defence was up to the task - limiting the damage to six points from two early penalties. Hughes struck both, as he made up for a scoreless outing last week to account for all of his team’s points today with a try, conversion, two penalties and the drop goal.


“We wanted to play a bit more rugby this week, because we kicked away too much ball last week. The scoreboard probably did not reflect that field position and pressure, but we kept chipping way and did not move off of our game plan and what we prepped for,” Wiggins said.


“Glyn definitely needed a performance this week, and he came to the party and proved why he is one of the best players in the Premiership, but he can’t do it by himself, this was a team effort.”


Valley were put under more pressure when flanker Jonah Mau’u was sin-binned for repeated infringements midway through the half. Later, Mau’u atoned for his absence by finishing off Valley’s only successful foray into Club’s red zone in the first half after some good foraging in the loose when captain Ruan Du Plooy broke open the defence. Mau’u’s try gave Valley its first lead at 7-6 after Matt Rosslee’s conversion.


Valley were rejuvenated, but Club weathered the storm by turning the attacks around with booming deep kicks, one of which troubled Du Plooy beneath his posts as he turned the ball over. The ensuing attack eventually saw Hughes cross the whitewash after selling the defence with a nice dummy. His try swung momentum back to HKFC who entered the changing sheds ahead 13-7.


The second half was evenly contested, especially the scoreless third quarter with both teams enjoying opportunities and planting some fierce tackles. Rosslee and Hughes both missed penalty chances as the match entered the final quarter with a try in the balance.


Late in the game, Rosslee nudged a Valley penalty deep to set up an attacking lineout. HKFC’s initial counter was strong, but Valley pirouetted neatly to put hooker Luke Dewar over the line for what appeared to be the game winner as Valley took a 14-13 lead with minutes left.


With the benches emptying and both sides relentless in attack, the opportunities mounted on both ends. Club capitalised best down the stretch, wresting Valley’s advantage at the scrum back in their direction late, including the final take from the head to set up Hughes’ winning drop goal and sneak Club home 16-14.


Wiggins credited his backline - featuring four Hong Kong sevens caps in Max Denmark, Liam Herbert, Raef Morrison and Russell Webb – for giving Valley problems behind the ball.


“Everyone in the league has recruited well, but we did not bring in a lot because we knew we would have our sevens guys back. You saw today with ball in hand that they are as good as anyone in the world. We are relying on our home grown talent and a few guys that come in each year to do the job, and they delivered today,” Wiggins added.


Valley’s Hong Kong caps also performed well with fullback Paul Altier helping shore up an injury hit back three with canny decision-making and accurately judged kicking from hand. Despite the high attrition rate this season, Valley coach Mark Fatialofa was not having any excuses.


“That is no excuse. We put our new guys under pressure and give them a chance to perform. They are probably three or four down the depth chart, but there is no better experience for them than coming here and having a crack at the best team in the comp,” he said.


The pressure moments are still a work in progress for Fatialofa: “We spoke about the big moments and owning them. We did not own them enough today, especially towards the end. We let the big moments slip and they took advantage of it. There were three or four of those at the end and we didn’t take any of them.


“It is a marked improvement from last week, but there is still a lot to work on. We just need to face up to it and improve each week,” he added.


For Club, the moment will be savoured, said Wiggins: “That is a big game for us. It puts us ahead of the pack now. It is a huge win, and there is a good feeling in the changing room.”


Today’s action leaves HKFC untouched on top of the table with 17 points, while Valley’s losing bonus point halts their slide at tied third with Tigers on eight points after their back to back wins. Sandy Bay leapfrogs into second place with 10 points while HK Scottish and Kowloon are tied fifth on six points each ahead, of the season’s mid-point next weekend.