07 Dec 2017

The Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership has made the turn for home and week nine of 15 sees table toppers Societe Generale Valley take on Bloomberg HK Scottish at Shek Kep Mei in the game of the week.

That clash, and the showdown between traditional rivals Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC and Natixis HKFC at Aberdeen, kick off at 3pm, while Kowloon and the Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers lock horns at So Kon Po from 4.30pm.

Scottish are the side most in need of a victory after a rollercoaster last three matches that saw them thump HKCC 68-17, lose 35-0 to HKFC and belt Kowloon 49-21. A loss here will leave them three wins behind Valley and essentially out of the race for the league championship.

“It was pretty frustrating against Football Club but the boys had a good week [last week against Kowloon],” Scottish coach Craig Hammond said.

“We had six or seven guys out from the HKFC game and the guys that replaced them knuckled down and got stuck in against Kowloon. There was a lot of improvement from the week before but it’s going to be a tough one this weekend. Valley are firing on all cylinders so we have got to make sure we put in a performance that justifies how we played last week.”

Scottish will be without Mark Coebergh and Marcus Ramage who are away with the under 19s and also Lex Kaleca as Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones looks to give some of his players a rest ahead of next year’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

“Next year’s a big year for the national team and it’s going to roll around pretty quick, there’s a few guys that haven’t had much time off,” Hammond said.

“Lex is one of those guys and he was pretty influential for us on the weekend so we will have to make do without him, but it’s a good opportunity for someone else to step up.”

On a positive note, the dynamic Conor Hartley returns and will likely slot into the centres, while Valley will be without Nick Hewson and Matt Rosslee as they rest up.

“They’ve got firepower all over the park. They’re tough up and are playing some good footy but we can’t get too wound up about playing Valley, we’ve got to make sure we can do what we do and put in a good performance like last week,” said Hammond.

Valley coach Andrew Kelly expects a tough challenge from Hammond’s men and will look to Hong Kong veteran Ben Rimene to fill the void left by Rosslee.

“They played well last week and have got quite a few dangerous players so I think it will be a good match,” Kelly said.

“We’ve got Nick Hewson and Matt Rosslee having a bit of a rest but fortunately we’ve got Ben Rimene to step in at 10 which is a good option to have. We’ve got options in the back row with Carl Marks, Karetai Williams, Thomas [Lamboley] and Toby Fenn, so we should be able to cover Nick as well.”

Kowloon and Tigers are at opposite ends of the table, with ‘Loon coach James Scaysbrook unable to single out a single area of Tigers’ game that needs specific attention.

“They are looking very good at the moment, I don’t think there is one particular area [we need to focus on],” he said. “They are keeping the ball pretty well in attack and moving with a bit of pace and their set piece is going pretty well as well, so we are going to have to be on the ball all round.

“We’re looking forward to it, it’s nice to get straight back into it after a disappointing performance last week [vs. Scottish]. We’ve got two weeks to get a bit of consistency in performance before the break.”

Football Club have plenty to play for against the Cricketers, one because they need a win to stay in touch with the league leaders and two because HKCC put an end to their three-match unbeaten streak to open the season. That result remains the struggling HKCC’s only win this far but will give them confidence as they look to turn their season around in time for the grand championship finals.

The nine-team Old Mutual International Championship has also reached the season half-way point, with Vistra Typhoons in command, having beaten each of the other eight teams. Seven points behind them sit Natixis HKFC Scorpions, who last week took possession of the Old Mutual International Championship Challenge Cup and this week defend it against City RFC, currently eighth with recent gains following a barren start to the season.