28th Nov 2015

The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) domestic Premiership resumes with some key match-ups tomorrow after a hiatus for the Cup of Nations. The teams will be jockeying for preferential positions over the next three rounds before the league halts again for the Christmas break.

Last year’s Grand Championship finalists Societe Generale Valley and Leighton Asia Hong Kong Cricket Club will meet for the second time this season (Kings Park, kick-off 16.30), while second-placed Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers take on bottom-ranked Sabre Kowloon (KP, 18.00) and Natixis Hong Kong Football Club host third-placed Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish at Sports Road (18.00).

Valley coach Jack Isaac is expecting a stiff challenge from the Cricketers after beating them at home 25-0 in round three.

“We’re hoping to keep our winning streak intact but are expecting a really tough match against Cricket Club. They seem to have most of their guys back and are getting healthy now. I think captain Ben Roberts will be up this weekend and they will also have some of their sevens players returning after the Olympic qualifier.

“They had quite a few players in the Hong Kong squad for the Cup of Nations so it will be interesting to see how they return. Their scrumhalf Tom Marshall had a really good test series and I am sure they will be dangerous this weekend. Most of them have been playing through the test window so they may be coming in a bit more match fit then us, as we’ve had a few weeks off at Premiership level,” Isaac added.

Valley will be without Ed Rolston who was one of Hong Kong’s standout performers in the Cup of Nations.

“I thought Ed played extremely well,” Isaac said. “He hasn’t played a lot of rugby at fullback in the build-up but he was very solid throughout the series. He’s had a lot of work in the past ten days so we will be sitting him this weekend to give him a bit of rest.”

Valley will also be without dangerous winger Dave Vainqueur, creating an opportunity for HKCC to start a climb back from an uncharacteristic fifth place on the table. Isaac is intent on keeping the club’s undefeated run intact but is realistic about the challenges ahead.

“We have a difficult patch ahead with Cricket Club this weekend, then we are away to Scottish at Shek Kip Mei and we haven’t always played well there. Our last game before the break is against Hong Kong Football Club and I have a feeling they will be quite strong by the end of the next three weeks. We just need to take things game by game at this stage.”

Kowloon enter their match against USRC Tigers having taken advantage of the test window hiatus to continue gelling their new members, some of whom made an instant impact for Hong Kong in the Cup of Nations tests. New flanker Jamie Cunningham and props Adam Fullgrabe and Jamie Tsang all saw significant time in the three-match series as they collected their first international caps.

Head coach James Scaysbrook commented on their performance saying, “It was good to see the guys get their first international caps and I thought they all played well. Hong Kong had a good first couple of games but Russia was just too powerful in the end.

“We have had a good break and were able to take advantage of the test window to get in a good couple of weeks’ training. Considering our results so far, we’re pretty confident. The difference so far has come down to that lack of a pass or some poor last-minute decision-making but I think we are in reasonably good shape now. We’re chomping at the bit to get back into it and are ready for the big push with this short block of three games before the Christmas break,” said Scaysbrook.

Kowloon’s search for a groundbreaking first win of the season will be tough to achieve against Tigers, (a team familiar with the agony of close-run losses), who stand second in the league.

Craig Stewart, head coach of Tigers, said, “We want to make some progress on closing the gap with Valley by Christmas but we aren’t taking Kowloon lightly. They’re a good side and we have a lot of respect for them. I fully expect them to win a game before Christmas. I just hope it’s not against us.”

Stewart was impressed by Tigers’ centre Tyler Spitz’s performance in the Cup of Nations. Spitz was Tigers’ only representative in the Hong Kong side but Stewart believes he made his presence felt. The hard-tackling Spitz started every game in a rock steady pairing with Scottish’s Lex Kaleca in the centres for Hong Kong. The two were the lynchpins for Hong Kong, particularly in defence, but both have paid the price being out this weekend to recuperate.

“I thought Tyler was the standout player across the tests and I was really happy for him,” said Stewart. “However he is now out with a bit of a wear and tear injury, but the rest of the squad is in good shape.”

Third-placed Scottish will mark a milestone this weekend with their leading try scorer Dave Whiteford (14 tries to date for the club) becoming the third player to reach 50 appearances for the men from Shek Kip Mei.

In other team news, Ben Cullen moves to flyhalf for the injured Mike Moeahu. In an interesting positional change, Kane Boucaut will move from No. 8 to inside centre in place of Lex Kaleca who picked up an injury playing for Hong Kong last weekend against Russia, creating an opportunity for Mark Coebergh to potentially make his club debut on Saturday off the bench.

With gaps beginning to open at the top and bottom of the table, and tight jockeying for positions in the middle, the run of games till the turn of the year could well determine the shape of the rest of season – or leave the clubs with all to play for in 2016.