21 Sep 2021

DAC Kowloon men beat ImpactHK HKU Sandy Bay 18-12 in the Dettol Men’s Premiership season opener.

With summer-like conditions this afternoon at King’s Park, the first 20 minutes of the season were a grind for both teams as they struggled with heat and rust. Each team spent long stretches of the opening quarter in the other’s half, but both defences held strong early on, as timing and first game miscues prevented either side from drawing blood.

DAC Kowloon shook off the off-season rust first, conjuring a convincing 18-12 win - one that included a stiff rear-guard defence after they went down to 14 men ahead of the final quarter at King’s Park.

Six of seven penalties for fly half Harry Johnston provided Kowloon’s firepower on the day, while Sandy Bay scored tries in either half, but couldn’t convert the pressure down the stretch.

At half time, the score was 9-5 in Kowloon’s favour, after Johnson opened the scoring on 25 minutes with a penalty to take a 3-0 lead.

Sandy Bay replied on the next passage of play, working the ball deep into Kowloon territory from the restart, to set up an attacking lineout five metres from the try-line. The lineout, a favourite weapon of Sandy Bay, worked to perfection, and prop Zac Cinnamond was deposited over the line for the first try of the 2021/22 season. Centre Tertius Kruger’s kick from the left touchline was no good, as Sandy Bay led 5-3 after 28 minutes. Johnston added two more penalties for Kowloon in the waning moments, including one on 40 minutes to put his side in the lead at half time.

After the teams had found their grooves, the backlines of both came into play. On balance Sandy Bay generated the superior attacking chances, but their execution went missing, as line-break after line-break was turned over in contact by a committed Kowloon defence.

Indiscipline also hurt the visitors, as numerous Sandy Bay chances were turned over on penalties at the ruck and maul.

Discipline turned the game in the third quarter, with Johnston doubling his first half output after just 17 minutes of second half play, slotting three more penalties to push Kowloon ahead 18-5 at the hour marker. Johnston was on target with five of his first six chances, before missing a shot from halfway. He eventually finished six of seven, scoring all of Kowloon’s points.

The hosts’ hopes of playing out the clock with a comfortable lead were disrupted by an unlucky red card against Kowloon wing Fong Kit-fong, who failed to bring Spanton down to ground safely after claiming a contested clearance kick. Down to 14, the crowd seemed resigned to a Sandy Bay win, but Kowloon threw everything into a final quarter defensive effort, which was joined ably by the reserves in an effort that just barely held off Sandy Bay down the stretch.

Sandy Bay still struggled with its point-to-point attack, but ex-captain Gair Currie brought the game back into the balance with a brilliant 80-metre interception try off of a Kowloon attack deep in the other end. Currie converted his own penalty to close the gap to 18-12 to set up a frenetic final few minutes.

With less than five minutes left, Sandy Bay No.8 Luke Van der Smit looked to have crossed the try-line but was judged to have been held up in the tackle. Kowloon cleared their lines and finished running out the clock with another attacking passage of play as the hooter sounded.

New Kowloon captain Dave Markham was happy with his side’s clutch defence. “I’m very pleased with the effort, especially after going down to 14 men for the last 20 minutes. We stuck in really well as a team. In the end it was less about tactics or techniques, and all about getting stuck in really, and it worked.”

“Effort-wise I think we hit our standards, but we can still turn it up further. We haven’t got out of second- gear in terms of our patterns. Tactically, and detail-wise, we can really build on this,” he added.

Hong Kong flanker and Kowloon vet Sam Tsoi Kin-san agreed saying, “That was a big win for us. We have been known to soften up a bit after 60 minutes, that has been our reputation in the past, but today we showed we are a new team - not just new faces - but a different system, a new coach and a great win. It is a new look Kowloon, the boys are way more dedicated this year even as part time or semi pro players, everyone is very into it.”

Sandy Bay were left ruing what could have been. New captain Lewis Wilson chalked the performance up to a lack of pre-season competition in this Covid-impacted season, “Not the start we wanted and I think the fact that we did not have any pre-season matches showed; but we also showed that we are here to play a different style, we’re not here to kick points, we want to play from anywhere on the pitch.

“The penalty count is one frustrating thing as it is something we have been guilty of in previous seasons. It’s the first game back and everyone is excited, but we have to eliminate some of that. It’s an easy fix but we need to be more savvy than give away so many penalties when their 10 is slotting everything.

“We take it as a positive that they are kicking points all the time. We think it will be tough for teams to break us down and score tries on us, we have a physical defence and big boys, if we keep on working hard we will be there or thereabouts at season end,” said Wilson.

In other Dettol Men’s Premiership action, Societe Generale Valley lost 29-14 to Natixis HKFC at Happy Valley, while KPMG HK Scottish fell to Kroll USRC Tigers, 44-22.


Area Man sets world record for longest Rugby Pre-Game Warm-up

It was a welcome return to rugby for Wilson, who marked his first full Premiership game and his first start in over 18 months today, after arriving in Hong Kong in November 2020 to play last season. The 23-year old Yorkshireman emerged from quarantine as the season ground to a halt last year but kept himself busy helping coaching the Juniors and minis at Sandy Bay, and was named captain for the coming season.

Wilson commented on his long-delayed first taste of Premiership rugby saying, “I didn’t know much about Hong Kong rugby when I arrived, but there are guys with really good pedigree on all of the Premiership sides here. The standard even from last year has improved massively. I am from up north in the UK so I struggled with the heat today, but it was a good challenge and the coaching staff and HKRU are outstanding they really look after us well.”

Wilson takes the captaincy as a tremendous honour.

“It is massive for me, especially as I am one of the younger boys on the team at 23. I just kind of slid naturally into the role in the pre-season and have had the backing of Will Webster and the coaching staff, who have ben great. I’m really proud bit there are literally 10-12 guys that could be skippers out there,” said the self-effacing flanker.

With his first Premiership game under his belt after a nine-month wait, Wilson is glad that he has thrown his lot in with Sandy Bay: “I was close to going back last year, but the state of rugby in the UK at the moment is nothing to get excited about. Here it is a massively improving and growing game and I am eager to improve my coaching credentials and the club has been great helping me out with that. I am really enjoying working with the minis and kids at The Bay. The amount of kids playing the game in Hong Kong is crazy,” Wilson added.