29th Oct 2021

Natixis HKFC and Societe Generale Valley’s men’s and women’s teams will contest the Dettol Premiership Stadium Showdown on Saturday, 30 October at the Hong Kong Stadium. It is Football Club’s first turn in the Dettol Hong Kong Premierships Game of the Week spotlight after Typhoon Lionrock washed out week 4 earlier this month.  The Dettol Women’s Premiership match starts at 1630, with the Dettol Men’s Premiership tie at 1830. 

Hong Kong’s historic rugby rivalry heats up HK Stadium

Valley and HKFC are fitting stars for the showdown, given their dominance of the men’s game for much of the HKRU’s six decades. Football Club has been a mainstay since before the turn of the last century, while Valley burst on to the scenes, and to the top of the league ladders - in the mid-1970s. 

As the rivalry approaches 50 years, Club have the upper hand of late, demonstrated by a triple trio of league, grand championship and challenge trophies all won over Valley in 2019/20. While competition between two teams that train less than a drop kick’s distance apart is always intense, Saturday’s Stadium Showdown carries an extra frisson of excitement.

Under coach Jack Wiggins, HKFC lead the league and boast the Premiership’s deepest bench, stocked with Hong Kong internationals and England and Wales Sevens stars; even its second side, Dragons, lead the Premiership A competition with an unbeaten 4-0 record. 

Things are progressing nicely for Wiggins, with three wins from four rounds played: “We’re fairly happy with where we are; although we’re disappointed to have lost a game in the first round, we bounced back well in our last game and are feeling good heading into Saturday.”

At the other end of the racetrack is the red and black machine of Valley, whose hard-nosed style and imposing forward play drove an HKRU record six straight grand championship titles from 2013-18. A new generation of stars is now emerging under the watchful eye of ex-Samoa international Mark Fatialofa, who fully understands the Club’s traditions - and expectations - after winning seven grand championships as a player for the horse.  These lofty traditions have contrasted with a more pedestrian start to the season as the team enters Saturday’s showdown in fourth place at 2-2.

Club have one scalp to their credit already after winning the first game between the two on the opening weekend of the Premiership, 29-14. But it hasn’t been a cakewalk for the league leaders, who were made to work hard by IMPACTHK HKU Sandy Bay in a 16-14 win, before losing to DAC Kowloon at home. They rebounded with a convincing 52-10 win over emerging threats Kroll USRC Tigers, but enter the Stadium looking more vulnerable than they have in the past three seasons.

Wiggins is expecting a dogfight, saying, “We can’t take too much from game one given no one had played in a long while. Their new guys are embedded on and off the pitch now, so we expect them to be a lot better. We are also struggling with injuries to key players but can’t use that as an excuse. We have to be ready for Saturday.

“There’s obviously a bit more spice in a Valley week because of the history and tradition between the clubs, but we’ve tried to prepare as normally as we can. It’s a privilege to play at the Stadium but we can’t focus on those things, we have to maintain a ‘next game’ mentality.”

Wiggins knows that the commitment factor will be high all around: “We expect a very, very physical game. Generally this match is won or lost up front and they put real pressure on at the set piece and breakdown, so that’s been a focus for us this week,” added Wiggins.

After climbing to .500 with another in a series of gritty wins two weeks ago, the pressure will be on Valley where the absence of midfield general Peter Laverick has been keenly felt in recent weeks as the attack has not been as fluid as in seasons past.  While HKFC boast four of the league’s top try scorers, (fullback Ben Smith leads the count on three from four games, while Ben Axten-Burrett and new arrivals Josh and Zac Hrstic are amongst 10 players overall with two to date), forward Dom Heggelin tops Valley’s scorers with a brace coming from a reserve role the past few weeks.  

Something will have to give on Saturday and with both clubs boasting the largest membership bases in the game a large and festive crowd is expected on Halloween Eve to watch the action.

Wiggins is excited at what that opportunity means for the Premiership game, saying, “I’ve been here three years and we have not had any fifteens in the Stadium. I understand that playing fifteens there is rare, so it will be a special moment and I’m sure that both clubs will want to showcase Hong Kong rugby again after all that we have been through in the last 18 months,” he said.

The situation is similar but in the reverse in the Dettol Women’s Premiership game with Societe Generale Valley once again setting the standard for the rest of the league after finishing the opening round of matches with a perfect 4-0 record.  They have a healthy +67 margin (99 points for to 32 against across the four games), but it was not built at the expense of Natixis HKFC Ice, who pushed the defending champions to the limit in the opening game of the Premiership before losing 12-11. 

That result gave HKFC added motivation according to coach Chris Garvey:  “That +1 point loss to Valley gave us belief on the season and the results that followed only built on that. It gave us the belief that we could be bigger this season, and we are excited at what is yet to come.”

Backed by that confidence HKFC then gave notice to the rest of the league that it was poised to disrupt matters further. They have gotten off to a promising start at 2-2 in third place with 12 points, two behind Tigers and five adrift of Valley – the two sides they have lost to this season.

Valley will bring its full strength to the stadium with a team full of current and former internationals from Hong Kong, Samoa and New Zealand, although both teams are without key cogs from the Hong Kong Sevens training squad as they start preparations for the upcoming Asian championships.

“I expect a really good encounter,” said Garvey, a former coach of the Hong Kong Women’s XV.

“No one will shirk from the physical clash I’m sure. I expect the contact area will be big, and think it will be difficult for both teams to get much separation from each other. The team with the better whole squad performance will get the win, I expect. For us it’s about managing the ball, if we can increase our time in possession, 5%, 10%, we’re a different team. We have a great scrum, but I prefer not to use it as much as we have been.

“The Stadium will definitely add a unique factor. It’s not something we are focusing on but we are addressing it in training, you know for the girls that may not have played there before so they do not get overwhelmed.

After emerging so positively from the first tie with Valley Garvey is not concerned that a second loss would bring the reverse result saying, “No, we are a stronger team now. If it goes completely wrong that is okay also, we will learn more from that than a win, although I don’t want to test that theory.”

Garvey, (whose wife Adrienne is an ex-Hong Kong captain who still plays for Valley, where Garvey also used to coach), was well placed to talk about the importance of the rivalry between the teams.

“There’s a healthy rivalry there, some of the girls work together outside of rugby or play together in the Hong Kong programmes, sevens and fifteens, so I expect there will be a lot riding on it out there and some good banter and personal victories to be won in that respect.

“But it’s about more than that, this is an incredible opportunity for us to showcase how far the women’s game has come on Hong Kong’s biggest stage; both sides are reaching out to the youth and schools communities in particular to promote the game. We are expecting a big occasion, there is a great buzz around going into the stadium again, it’s been too long,” said Garvey.

Over 1,000 tickets have been sold ahead of the Dettol Premiership Stadium Showdown. Gates open to the public at 1500 with mini and youth rugby matches preceding the main events; admission is $50.