11 Jan 2018

The Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership kicks back into gear after the Christmas break with the season’s second Super Saturday at Hong Kong Football Club. A bumper line-up of matches is headlined by the top-of-the-table clash between the Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Societe Generale Valley at 4.45pm.

Proceedings get underway at 3.00pm when Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC take on Bloomberg HK Scottish, while Natixis HKFC – level on top with Tigers and Valley – and Kowloon clash at 6.30pm.

The winner of the Tigers, Valley clash will be well positioned in the run to the grand championship finals and, with the ledger at one win apiece this season, there is sure to be plenty of fireworks.

Tigers got the better of Valley 28-10 on their home ground last time the sides met and coach Sam Hocking expects the five-time reigning grand champions to be eager to atone for that loss.

“It’s a fair old break so it’s nice to have all the boys back and training again,” he said. “Valley is always a tough game for us, we’ve got one each at the moment and I imagine they will still be a little bit annoyed about what happened down at their place last time we played.”

While forwards Jun Sing Lee and Nick Seymour are likely to miss through injury, Hocking expects to have a strong side at his disposal.

“We need a bit of control more than anything, making sure we don’t make mistakes in between those 22s and letting off Valley when we have got them under pressure,” he said.

“They like to look after the ball once they get into our half, so its about making sure we don’t give away silly penalties that will hurt us in the long run, because they are very fond of building a score and having their forwards come at us and put us under a fair bit of pressure.”

HKFC have a new coach, with director of rugby Cameron McIntosh stepping into fill the void left by Phil Bailey’s departure. Bailey has joined the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL as their reserves coach, leaving McIntosh in charge of a side that looks ready to challenge for higher honours.

Kowloon need to win to maintain some touch with the top four and have traditionally played well against Football Club.

“Both times we played Kowloon they were extremely tight games but we just ended extremely well in the last five to 10 minutes. The bounce of the ball the other way and those results could have gone the other way,” McIntosh said.

“Coming back from a break it’s not so much about the opposition, it’s more about ourselves and getting our heads right and getting back to the style of footy we have been trying to play and back in the groove. We will be focussing heavily on our performance and what we are up to rather than the opposition.”

While Charlie Higson-Smith and Gavin Hadley are working their way back from long-term injuries, a HKFC squad that was a touch battered and bruised before the break is now decidedly fresher.

In the early game, Scottish will be hoping to lay the foundations for a more consistent finish to the season after an up and down opening 10 matches. HKCC were hit hard by injuries before Christmas but Scottish boss Craig Hammond expects to face a rejuvenated outfit on Saturday.

“I’m sure like most teams they have had a month off and everyone will be fresh,” Hammond said. “Going into the break, with injuries and the resting of ERP guys, there was quite a few guys out of all of the teams. These guys are all back in the fold now and it’s only going to make Cricket Club a lot stronger.

“Consistency is key for us, we have put ourselves in some good positions the last few games but we have come away with bugger all in regards to points. The big one for us is putting an 80-minute performance together, I think we are playing some good attacking footy but defensively we have got to focus more. We can’t be letting in soft tries or having discipline issues that put them in positions to score tries and win games.

“It’s been a frustrating season but the good thing is there is still a lot to play for and it is by no means anywhere near finished.”