12 Nov 2021

KPMG HK Scottish face IMPACTHK HKU Sandy Bay at So Kon Po in Saturday’s Dettol Men’s Premiership game of the week (15.00), followed by the Dettol Women’s Premiership tie between SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay and Gai Wu Falcons at 18.00.

HK Scottish fell into a 0-3 hole after waiting on several overseas forwards emerging from arrival quarantine in dribs and drabs over the first month of the season. Just when Scottish had rallied the clan, a rash of backline injuries cropped up with captain and fly half Gregor McNeish and wing Conor Hartley both side-lined, while centre Mike Greene is on suspension for a dangerous tackle.

It’s all hands on deck ahead of Sandy Bay and with coach Peter Jericevich even plugging holes, covering fly half duties for McNeish. Despite juggling availability, Scottish notched wins over DAC Kowloon and Kroll USRC Tigers, both ahead of them on the table at the time. Valley stopped that momentum cold last weekend with a 24-23 win, (Scottish’s third single point margin game of the year), and claimed sole ownership of third place with the win, while Scottish are tied fourth.

There are no excuses out of Jericevich: “Despite the injuries, we still have a strong squad and were capable of beating Valley, which was why that loss was disappointing,” the ex-Scotland Sevens rep said of a match that Scottish were leading in the second half.

It will take another club-wide effort to remain in contention while they await the return of their captain and key backs, but Jericevich is confident his side can produce it.

“Even starting as we have, our games have been close, three of them one-pointers and we were on the wrong side of two of those. It has been a bit up and down, but we’ve played everyone once, we’re six games in and we're in fourth. Most of our problems have been caused by ourselves, so if we can clean up our own house a bit, we can mount a good run from now to Christmas.”

Scottish recently welcomed the arrival of new forwards coach and ex-Scotland prop, Alex Allan, which is an important addition for Jericevich.

“A lot of our penalties this season have come at the set piece. Alex has only just cleared quarantine but he is already having a positive impact on the squad, I can see it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the pack responds the rest of the season,” said Jericevich.

Allan’s arrival is particularly timely given Sandy Bay have one of the Premiership’s most fearsome forward packs, anchored by giants like Luke van der Smit, Mark Prior and Ben Davey. Jericevich knows what to expect on Saturday; “Sandy Bay was our first one-point loss of the season so we know them well. They have a big tight five, really big forwards who will want to use their advantage in the set piece and lineout.

“Like Valley, they’ll want to slow the game down. We need to use the speed in our outside forwards and backs, and our mobility, to move them around and tire them out.”

Jericevich will also appreciate the added coaching support on the sideline from Allan as he does double duty as player-coach, and in a new position to boot.

“Stepping in at 10, which isn’t a position I’ve played before, has been a bit tough. My first game I was coaching right up until a minute before kick-off then I tried to switch to the playing mind-set when I realized I was about to play fly half, likely for 80 minutes. Of course, I dribbled the kick-off on the floor, and followed that up with a few more errors early on; the rest of the lads were starting to look at me sideways, but I’ve had time to adjust now, so the service should be better. Anyway, once I get comfortable, our captain Gregor will return, I’m sure.”

Like Scottish, Gai Wu are another team slowly taking shape in the Dettol Women’s Premiership after a generational shift in the off-season saw many of their backs retire from Premiership rugby. That perfect storm leaves coach Andrew Li overseeing a rebuild, and carefully ushering in a group of new players from National League levels for some on the job training in the Premiership. As might be expected it has been hard work so far, especially after opening the season against Societe Generale Valley and Kroll USRC Tigers back-to-back, both losses. Falcons finally took flight with a 61-0 win over their opponents on Saturday, SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay, followed by a 22-all draw against Kowloon to close out the first round.

They have now had a chance to benchmark their performance after round two matches with Tigers and Valley and while the results were mixed from a win-loss perspective, the performances have on the whole been frustrating for coach Li and his charges. Falcons claimed a gritty 18-12 win over an unlucky Tigers team falling in the ranks with much of their star power on sevens duty for Hong Kong but even that result was not up to the Falcons standard, or Li’s.

“To be fair, it was a vastly different Tigers team than we faced week one. Without seven first class players it was more like their National League 1 side, so I had expected a more fluid performance and honestly a more convincing one. We didn’t get it and the team was disappointed,” said Li.

The next outing produced another upsetting result, a 16-0 loss to Valley in a game where Gai Wu were dominating early on; “We had a lot of possession, we just couldn’t finish,” said Li.

“We keep getting in our own way through silly mistakes, and we’re struggling to finish even when in good positions. We’ve got to execute. The other teams doing well, Kowloon, Tigers when they have their team intact, and especially Valley, they are clinical,” said Li.

While facing a Causeway Bay XV hunting a first win on the season would presumably make things easier, Li feels it makes what he wants to achieve this weekend even harder. “We are not taking Causeway Bay lightly. They showed real improvement against a good Football Club team from round one to two and they can be dangerous. But whether we win or lose it won’t be about them it will be about us. We want a clinical performance and that means putting what we’ve been working on training on the pitch and playing in control. It may be easy at times for players to use their individual skill, but we have a structure we want to achieve,” said Li.

Li believes the squad is responding well to the challenge: “Our communication has improved a lot and our game management is getting better every week. This match is an opportunity to cement that, and test our discipline and ability to play like a team,” he added.

While the performances are showing some improvement for both teams, the standings have not been as kind. Causeway Bay are in sixth place, behind Falcons (12 points), Tigers (15), HKFC (17) and Kowloon (18), with Valley beginning to separate from the pack at 6-0 and a commanding points total of 25.