06 Jan 2017

The HKRU KPMG Women’s Premiership returns to action tomorrow after the international and end-of-year break. In the first match of the second half of the 2016/17 season, CPM Gai Wu Falcons host SCAA First Pacific CWB Phoenix at KGV, kicking off at 16.30. Then at 18.00, leaders Societe Generale Valley Black Ladies take on Kowloon Ladies, five places below them, at Happy Valley pitch 8, while Comvita City Sparkle visit Natixis HKFC Ice, hoping to recreate the attacking form they put together in the reverse fixture back in October. Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers sit out for another week.

A lively match-up may be on the cards between second-placed Gai Wu, bidding to maintain a solid challenge to leaders Valley, and Causeway Bay, currently placed fifth and aiming for respected contender status. Both sides are looking to make a good re-start, with squads refreshed and largely injury-free, but the two coaches enter the fray with differing stances.

Surprisingly, given his side’s 31-0 win in the season’s earlier encounter, it is Gai Wu’s Lai Yiu Pang who sounds most cautious, stressing the need for his side to gel after the holiday break.

“It’s like a new season, after half of the team were away to action with the national squad. Now they must adjust to being back in the club environment, while the other players have not played at all for a long time, so will take some time to readjust,” said Lai.

However, Lai’s goals for the match suggest rather more confidence in the outcome.

“Our aim is to shut out Causeway Bay entirely. Our defence needs to apply pressure from the start of the game to the last play and leave them with zero points on the board.”

“In attack, I want to speed up a bit, I want more quick rugby. But I’m not so worried about how many points we score – it’s more about our players going out there with 100 percent confidence and 100 percent commitment.”

“In our last game against Causeway Bay, the set pieces – especially the scrum – were a bit of an issue for us, so we are focusing on tightening up there.”

Causeway Bay’s Ocean Chow prefers to see the holiday break as a chance for his charges to absorb the lessons of the first half of the season and expects them to take the game to Gai Wu.

“The players are hungry and have maintained their standards,” he said. “We can make it a close game, and have a chance to win. From the first cycle of games, our team – which includes a number of former NL1 players – has got used to this level, and that provides the platform we can grow from. Also, many players have been stable in the positions I have asked them to play, so they are used to the patterns now. I hope we can put over a few tries. In our last game against Gai Wu, we came close to scoring in a good first-half performance.”

“In this game we will focus on using the back line. We aim for fast ball, working out to the wings, to take advantage of our relative speed there, and hopefully some good handling. The Gai Wu forwards include a number of national players who are used to working together. We also aim to work up more of a kicking game.

While aiming for victory, Chow is sanguine about the route forward, saying, “I focus on playing our style and having all players performing in their roles. I’m looking for improvements on performances to date in all areas. We understand that we are mid-standard, not yet ready to mount a challenge for the top of the league. It would put unhelpful pressure on our players if we saw winning games as the only measure of success.

Nevertheless, he spies an opportunity for glory in the near term. “I think we have a realistic shot to finish fourth in the League, and secure a place in the Grand Championship playoffs. Then every team has a chance to go through to the final.”

Both Lai and Chow will use the opportunity to give some of their younger players a run out, aiming to increase squad depth, both for the future and for when core players are unavailable.

Causeway Bay’s starting line-up will include less familiar faces Tina Ho Hau Yan, a forward, and Ka Lok Ng, in the backline. Meanwhile Gai Wu will be relying on fly-half Joyce Chui Kam Chi, fresh from representing Hong Kong in the team’s triumph in the Asia Rugby U18 Girls Sevens Championship in Dubai. Lai said, “I am asking her to step up this Saturday and I believe she will play a big part in our performance, even though she is the youngest in the team.