Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Natixis HKFC will be looking to build momentum when they clash in the final round Game of the Week in the Rugbypass.com Men’s Premiership this weekend.
In what is sure to be an action-packed Saturday, Tigers host HKFC at King’s Park at 4.30pm, Societe Generale Valley take on Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC at Happy Valley at 3.00pm and Bloomberg HK Scottish and Kowloon clash at Shek Kip Mei, also at 4.30pm.
Tigers displayed some solid form in a draw with Valley before the Chinese New Year break and a narrow loss to HKCC last week and will be looking to turn the tables on an HKFC side that has had the wood on them this season.
“We’ve a good chance, but Football Club will be hurting a bit from their performance against Kowloon [a 37-20 loss],” Tigers coach Craig Stewart said.
“We need to control our possession when we attack, have a bit of variation about what we do and make sure we keep them moving as much as possible. I expect them to prepare pretty well as they have given us a couple of hidings this year.”
Last week’s return of flanker Alex Woodburn from injury gave Tigers a lift, but Stewart is still faced with the prospect of numerous changes each week.
“We are pretty disrupted again, just no consistency, we get guys back and then we lose different guys,” he said. “But we will have a reasonably strong team. It’s good to have Alex back. He’s very competitive, puts a lot of pressure on and he stays in the game. He’s important to us.”
With Valley effectively assured of top spot and the league championship, it is the Scottish and Kowloon clash that will have the most bearing on final ladder positions.
While mathematically Scottish can still pinch top spot from Valley, the reigning league and grand champions’ five-point lead on the table, with an 84-point differential, makes it highly unlikely.
A loss to an in-form Kowloon would see Scottish slip into third place and miss out on the play-off bye week and home semi-final they have worked so hard for.
After a heavy 29-3 loss to Valley last weekend, Scottish coach Craig Hammond is hoping to see his charges bounce back.
“We’ve got our backs against the wall and I’m looking forward to seeing how the boys respond to last week,” he said.
“We’ve just got to execute, we got in to some good situations last week and played in the right parts of the field and five or six times we were in Valley’s 22 but we came away with absolutely nothing. We are up there for most tries scored in the league so we have got to carry on with that attacking mindset and make sure we come away with some points.”
Hammond is hoping to field a side largely unchanged from last week, despite some sore bodies after the intense clash with Valley.
After going down to Kowloon by a point in their last meeting, Hammond is expecting a fierce encounter, highlighting dangerous fly half Jack Neville and dynamic back-row forward Turoa Stephens as players his side must be wary of.
“They are the form team if you go back over the last few weeks and even the last couple of months,” he said. “Their coach [James Scaysbrook] has got them playing for each other and they work really hard defensively.”
Scaysbrook is in a similar boat to Hammond in that he is nursing a “banged up” squad, but is hopeful everyone will come right for Saturday.
While the carrot of a home semi-final is on his mind, it won’t change how Scaysbrook’s side approaches the weekend’s game.
“We’re not about to start changing the way we are playing, we’ve got the same focus as last week and the weeks before that in that we’re trying to maintain all the things that are positive in our game,” Scaysbrook said.
“That has been our sole focus the last few weeks and will continue to be this week.”
Scottish centre Conor Hartley will have a big impact on the game if allowed space, while flanker Josh Dowsing continues to impress with his carrying ability.
Valley will be looking to put paid to fierce rivals HKCC to be absolutely sure the league championship stays put and that they head into the finals with a full head of steam.
“We want to build on our performances going into the semi-final,” coach Andrew Kelly said.
“It’s in our control [winning the league championship] so we want to control the situation and get a win. We don’t want to take the trophy on a loss. Everyone seems to be fit and available, except Ed Rolston who is working his way back to full health [from a broken jaw]. We are looking as good as we can be.”