PREMIERSHIP SIDES SHARE SPOILS IN DETTOL STADIUM SHOWDOWN

01 Nov 2021


Natixis HKFC and Societe Generale Valley’s men’s and women’s Premiership teams served up a frightfully good time at the Dettol Premiership Stadium Showdown at the Hong Kong Stadium. In front of 2,755 fans packing the lower bowl to watch today’s action, Hong Kong’s elite rugby stars did not disappoint as the top-ranked Valley women’s team beat Natixis HKFC Ice 25-5, while HKFC’s men’s XV fought back from a 17-3 second half deficit to win 20-17 with a try in the 78th minute from Callum Hardie.

The treats came early for the spectators, many in Halloween costume, with a cracking women’s showcase as Valley led 12-5 after 40 minutes before pushing the margin to 25-5 at end of play. It was a frenetic start for Valley who had the best of the early scoring opportunities as they dominated the territorial stakes in the opening quarter. Football Club’s defence was up to the task as Georgia Cutt and Cheryl Gourley lead the charge with some committed tackling to stop the Valley power duo of No.8 Olivia Coady and player coach Bella Milo at the source.

Both sides generated chances in the first half, but ultimately the defences were too strong and it would take individual flair to unlock either door. That came first from Milo who produced a captain’s try to open the scoring on 20 minutes when she wove her way through four defenders and 20 metres before thundering across the line left of the posts. Zoe Smith’s tough conversion pushed the lead to 7-0.

Valley’s next chance came soon after, when Club captain Aileen Ryan’s clearance kick was charged down deep in Club territory. HKFC flanker Tilly Churm was sent to the sin bin in the ensuing scramble for possession and Valley smartly opted for the scrum inside Club’s 22-metres. They took the ball cleanly and after a few physical carries wore down the outnumbered Club defence for a second try. Smith’s conversion was off target, but Valley led 12-0.

With the first half expiring, HKFC wing Sophie Fella produced a cracking solo run to position HKFC on Valley’s 5-metres before finally being corralled by the defence. Club were given a penalty and opted for the scrum, producing the ball in an opportune position for their talented backs. They managed to work the ball through four pairs of hands despite a rushing Valley defence off its own try-line. The ball found Hong Kong Sevens star Anna Birkett who muscled over in the right corner to close the gap to 12-5, and give Club the momentum heading into the second half.

Valley took that momentum away quickly after the restart, with their opening attack creating a penalty chance for Milo. She missed but the ball ended up in play and Club had a second clearance kick charged down. This time the ball took a Valley bounce, with winger Smith claiming the score in the corner to push Valley ahead 19-5 after the missed conversion.

 

 

Valley parked in Club’s 22 for most of the rest of the match, earning several penalty chances. Faced with another strong defensive stand, Valley opted for another shot at goal with Milo converting to push the lead to 22-5 after 50 minutes. Credit to HKFC they stood strong in front of the ball for the rest of the game, limiting further scoring to a final Milo penalty in the 70th minute to bring the final line to 25-5.

Milo was proud that her side responded to what was a massive occasion for the women’s game, while stretching Valley’s win streak to five: “What an occasion,” said the delighted captain post-match. “This week we treated it like this was an opportunity we might never have again. We visualized walking in and playing in front of a crowd like this and taking advantage of having this unique opportunity amongst the women’s teams. We walked in a bit nervous but after that it was just back to rugby.”

Milo credited her side’s execution as the difference maker: “We played in the right spaces today. It took us a bit of time to break them down, and it was a bit messy in that second half, but we’ll take the win.

We did our homework; they are a bigger forward pack so we had to move them around. We are smaller than them but there were a lot of turnovers so I am really proud of the girls

“It was a great opportunity for the women’s game and it was great for the girls in the team who were born here but have never played in the stadium. They had that opportunity tonight and it was just awesome to see them come out with their eyes wide.”

HKFC coach Chris Garvey was disappointed with the result but not the occasion. “This season we want to improve each game and tonight is probably the first time we haven’t done that. We actually took a step back. Normally, we are more dominant in the scrum but our set piece didn’t get it today; we generated opportunities but we didn't take them.

“Defensively by far it was the best performance of the season and I’m proud of the way the girls held on. They have some players who have played in big tournaments and big games, maybe more than us, but full credit to Valley for their team performance today. The girls are gutted after that, but we have some young talent coming through and there are still ten games to play, which is a very long way to go in the Premiership. All in all, it was a great occasion and good to see people back in the stadium cheering rugby and in fancy dress,” said Garvey.

In the Dettol Men’s Premiership the HKRU’s oldest rugby rivalry did not disappoint either as Hong Kong’s heavyweights traded blows in what was the quintessential game of two halves. Valley dominated the opening stanza en route to a 14-3 lead, while Football Club stormed back with 17 unanswered second half points for the win.



Valley were rampant from kick-off with their first try coming after only five minutes when flanker Carl Marks finished an attack started up field by a half-break from Whiria Meltzer. Fly half Tom Smith added the conversion to make it 7-0. Club stayed composed under the early duress and soon battled back up pitch to set up a long-range penalty for Niall Rowark who closed the gap to 7-3 after ten minutes.

That was the last positive movement for HFKC in the first stanza. Valley went right back to chipping away at the Club defence. Smith nearly had his first try of the season but just fumbled a sneaky flick pass from fullback Mitchell Purvis with the Club line begging. After the teams took on water at 20 minutes it was well and truly one-way traffic for Valley, who dominated territory and time of possession thereafter with HFKC lucky to only trail 7-3 at that stage.

Club’s defensive effort was staunch, but draining, and while they squelched most attacks they could not regain possession as the tackling parade continued to half time. The Valley pressure finally told after 22 minutes when the pack bulled over for a forwards’ try in the far corner. Smith’s conversion was good as Valley pushed the margin to 14-3. On the few occasions HFKC managed to secure possession they gave it back quickly enough through unforced errors and after the restart, HKFC turned the ball over with a poorly executed lineout.

Club’s best scoring chance came in the final minutes of the first half with a jailbreak attack carrying the ball nearly to ten metres from the Valley line before the final pass went forward, and as the half-time hooter sounded, the defending league champions trailed 14-3.

The signals were reversed in the second half as HKFC came out firing, showing their intent in the 43rd minute with an attack that nearly breached the Valley line but was spoiled by another knock-on out wide this time from wing Jack Glover.

When Tom Smith struck his first penalty of the night to bring the score to 17-3 Valley with 23 minutes remaining it looked like matters might be over, but from that moment on it was all HKFC as the blue and whites stormed down the homestretch with 17 unanswered points to pip Valley at the post.

Club’s enviable depth came to the fore again with Hong Kong internationals Jamie Hood and John McCormack-Houston among the eight carefully timed and impactful additions as Wiggins turned to his bench. Valley also looked to its fresh legs with Nyasha Tarusenga returning from a prolonged injury.

Entering the final quarter, it was HKFC’s turn to camp out on the Valley try-line, with the forwards from both teams exerting their last reserves across a series of Club scrums, second phase attacks and penalties. Repeated infringements by Valley’s defensive line eventually saw Robert Fogerty sent to the bin. On the ensuing scrum, HKFC put together a straight one with Jamie Hood using the overlap out wide to put Will Glover across the white line for their first try of the match. Hood’s conversion from the touchline missed but Club had closed the margin to 17-8.

Centre Ben Axten-Burrett proved influential in the waning moments with his silver headgear popping up repeatedly in traffic in front of the Valley posts as he repeatedly crashed the line.

 

Inside the last ten minutes, the HKFC backline conjured up a final drive that saw every ball go to hand for seemingly the first time in the match. Hood again combined well with fullback Ben Smith whose quick hands found Axten-Burrett on an inside ball. Axten-Burrett took a perfectly chosen inside line to draw the defence across before slipping a beautiful offload to Higson-Smith for the score, closing Valley’s margin to four, 17-13, with six minutes left. Hood flubbed the conversion, but club were poised for a miracle comeback.

From the restart Valley bobbled a high searching ball and Axten-Burrett was again well placed to hack it ahead for the kick and chance. The defence could not control and HKFC reclaimed possession and a resulting penalty on the loose play. They took on Valley at its biggest strength, opting for the scrum five metres out from the posts. Club produced ball at the back but reserve McCormack-Houston was stopped sharply by the defence. The ball was slow to come from the ruck but Club regained possession and mounted seven phases to the line before Callum Hardie was interred beneath a half dozen Club and Valley forwards across the try line. The longhaired and bearded Hardie emerged from the bottom of the ruck carrying the game-winning ball like a caveman with fire as Club pushed by Valley 20-17 after the conversion.

“It was a game of two halves,” said a relieved Natixis HKFC coach Jack Wiggins. “We never got in the game in the first half. We made some unforced errors when we got into good areas and never got a foothold in it, and Valley were good in certain areas.

“There is no panic with this team. We can always come back into games and I think it’s a feature for us in this league. We put the first half to bed, but in the second half, our character came through and we snuck it in the end, which is always pleasing.

“They dominated the first half, but we stayed in the fight and the reserves made a good impact in the end. I am pretty happy, as you might expect. We always say we have guys on the bench that can make a real difference. We have 23 guys who are all very good Premiership players and I think that showed tonight with those 7 or 8 guys that made a difference.

“Credit to the HKRU, Valley and Football Club that we managed to get this on. It has been a great day from start to finish and a great showcase for rugby in Hong Kong; tonight is about as normal as it has felt in 18 months and we are so grateful to be here,” he added.

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