10 Feb 2020

Societe Generale Valley completed a pristine KPMG Premiership season when they beat Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers 36-15 , their 14th straight win of the season - to add the KPMG Grand Championship to their Premiership title. Valley’s first Grand Championship since 2017/18 is well deserved, given the juggernaut posted 605 points, an average of 43 per game – while conceding 40, less than a penalty per match, this season.

After being upset by Tigers in the showcase match last season, Valley left no doubt this time around, with a devastating display in the first half netting them a comfortable 24-0 lead.

“The key was we started well,” said player-coach Bella Milo, who claimed her third Grand Championship trophy with the club. “We held Tigers out of our half and disrupted them. We trusted the game plan, kicking for territory and playing rugby in their half and we kept our line-speed intact for 80 minutes.”

It was a clinical display from the league champions, and one driven by key personnel, with No.8 Olivia Coady a difference-maker. Coady repeatedly dented a superb Tigers defensive effort with half a dozen clean line breaks in the first half, one of which led to Valley’s opening try in the third minute with Claudia McMeekin crossing the whitewash after Coady forced gaps in the line. That margin grew 13 minutes later after a second try, this time from Nadia Cuvelier, who capped a successful mid-season return from injury to round out the first quarter with Valley leading 10-0.

Tigers, laden with some of Hong Kong’s premier tacklers in Natasha Olson-Thorne, Nam Ka-man, Lindsay Varty and Maggie Au-yeung were strong everywhere else in defence but had no answer for Coady. On their few attacking opportunities in the first stanza, the Tigers managed to work themselves into scoring positions but a flying Valley defence put them off their execution.  As the half wore on, the Tigers’ increasing defensive efforts - and the sheer number of opportunities being generated by Valley - began to tell with Valley scoring twice more in the half.

Prop Tanya Dhar finished well out wide for Valley with a tightrope touchline try, while Milo capped the early production with a spirit-sapping score on 40 minutes. Fullback Zoe Smith came up empty with her first two conversions, but caught fire late in the half to push the margin to 24-0 at the break.

With a deep hole to dig out from, Tigers roared to life, emerging from the break full of fire and brimstone to claim the second half’s first score after five minutes.

Jessica Ho, who replaced fellow Hong Kong scrumhalf Varty at the break, injected pace into Tigers efforts and was rewarded for her impact when she scored the first try of the game for the Kowloon-siders, finishing a fine piece of counter-rucking adventurism from the forwards who turned the ball over on the Valley line. Vivian Poon was unable to convert but Tigers had breathed new life into the game.

Just as quickly, Coady, who had been shut down numerous times to start the second half, extinguished that flame. She took the match on her shoulders again with another damaging run that dragged defenders across the line to finish Valley’s most cohesive attack since the resumption of play. Coady’s brace put the lead back to 31-5 after Smith nailed another tough shot at the posts.

Valley redoubled its efforts from there on out and exerted their dominance again for large periods. On the hour marker Valley extend its lead to 36-5 when Dhar collected her second off of an attacking lineout deep in Tigers territory. Dhar scored off some enterprising support play after she put the ball into the lineout cleanly and circled around to support in the wide channel.

Tigers never threatened the lead, but managed two more well taken team tries that, alongside the plethora of Hong Kong stars in the squad, show why they have emerged as the league’s second strongest side. Hooker Lam Tsz Yan finished the try of the game after touching down a flowing team-wide attack on the 70th minute to pull the score to 36-10, before Maggie Au-Yeung cut the lead to 36-15 as time expired.

Kowloon turn tables on Causeway Bay in KPMG Prem A Grand Final

In the KPMG Prem A Grand Championship, Kerry Hotel Kowloon turned the tables on SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay, winning 12-7, after losing the league decider to the same opponent two weeks prior, 14-5.

Hong Kong sevens debutant Florence Symonds put Kowloon on the board when she recovered a fortunate bounce on a chip ahead to score after 28 minutes, with Rosanna Down’s conversion giving them a 7-0 lead they defended through half-time. Causeway Bay erased that lead early in the second half when Ching Tsang-siu levelled the scores with a try converted by Chin Po Po with 30 minutes remaining. Kowloon’s Anjelika Ybema broke the deadlock after 68 minutes with her unconverted try bringing the score to 12-7, where it would stay after Kowloon’s defence fended Causeway Bay’s attacks until time expired.

Kowloon coach Terry Sibanda was delighted with the result, “It’s a great win for us, no doubt. Causeway Bay had gotten the better of us three times before and the team was ecstatic to win in the final against a team we had struggled to unlock this season.

“Defensively we played very well. We held strong on our try-line and nullified their forward rumble.”

The win was even sweeter given the composition of the squad:

“We had six 17 year olds in the starting line-up, and three more players on the bench who hadn’t played organized rugby before the season. This win is a massive bonus for us in a year where everyone in the club worked massively hard to turn our fortunes around.

“This season showed that fourth spot could have been taken by anyone. Sottish were a game away while Causeway Bay and us gave HKFC a good run for that top 4 spot as well.”

Valley is a model for all of the women’s clubs for Sibanda: “There is a reason why they are unbeaten this year. You need a winning mentality and players that are prepared to give more than 100% to have a chance against Valley. Consistency in training week in, week out, and talented players all focused on a single goal of winning will get you there. Credit to Valley and their team culture this season.”

For her part, Milo was enthusiastic about the state of affairs in the Valley and across the women’s game.

“I said at our jersey presentation ahead of the final that we have a history of great men and women at Valley who paved the way for us. We are more than a team, we are a family and all of the players that come to Valley work hard for each other.” Milo acknowledged that staying at the top is harder but is pleased that the standard continues to grow: “The game has changed a lot since I arrived in 2015. It’s more physical, faster, and a lot more exciting.” Anyone who watched the Grand Final would have to agree.