15 Nov 2021

IMPACTHK HKU Sandy Bay claimed a second one-point win over KPMG HK Scottish this season, 27-26, in a thrilling Dettol Men’s Premiership game at So Kon Po. The win follows a 20-19 win in the first round in October. In the Dettol Women’s Premiership, Gai Wu pulled away from SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay in the second half, winning 48-7 after leading 7-0 at the half.

It was a disappointing loss for Scottish after producing a valiant performance despite being undermanned ahead of kick-off with several players out of position. James Christie covered wing despite being a scrumhalf by choice, while team manager Jarrod Mongston was called up onto the opposite wing, and coach Peter Jericevich covered fly half for injured captain Gregor McNeish. All would step up in key moments to pace the Scottish attack in a seesaw game.

A Sandy Bay side with only one win on the season entered with their backs against the wall and were not to be denied in a game they had to have.  Early on, it looked like it wouldn't even be close with Sandy Bay having all of the early possession and territorial advantage and quickly driving play to the Scottish line. They spent the first ten minutes creating chances, but as has been the case all season they struggled to convert, frustrating coach Will Webster who was looking for a more convincing win.

“The frustration is because we are generating a lot of chances but not always finishing them. That was the story again today. It was clear we were dominant in the set piece and the maul, but we got away from that at key times. Many times we’re in good position, but seconds later we’re defending our 22.”

It has been a similar story for Scottish coach Peter Jericevich, who was left bemoaning some crucial miscues in what was a canny game plan that negated Sandy Bay’s pack advantage; “We are our own worst enemy at times, giving them the ball back through simple mistakes and handling errors, and not executing consistently. We limited the scrums, but when we did have a scrum, we turned it into a penalty opportunity for them. They had a really good game from our set piece errors,” he said.

Sandy Bay’s pack advantage was brought to bear early with a series of attacking scrums beneath the posts forcing Scottish to concede a penalty try, handing the Bay a 7-0 lead. After ten minutes under the cosh, Scottish wrested back control and would generate the better first half chances on balance.

After the penalty try, they opted for a short restart kick, moving the ball away from the Sandy Bay heavies, as match captain Ali Nardoni wrested possession back in the loose, generating an early penalty shot for Sean Taylor. He was off target, and would miss a second attempt later in the half.

Scottish shrugged off the setback to produce their opening try on the next passage of play when Jericevich produced a beautiful kick pass for Mongston out wide. He collected under pressure and put in a clever grubber to keep the play alive for hooker Harry Baron who collected the bouncing ball for his third try in as many games, tying the score at 7.

Scottish brought the attack right back to Sandy Bay’s red zone from the restart, with a first chance for Hong Kong sevens squad member Christie, whose weaving run through traffic was halted when he lost his footing. A second well weighted kick from hand by Jericevich found Mongston again unmarked out wide. Mongston’s attack posed problems as Sandy Bay’s scrambling rush cover defence left too many gaps in the line with lock Kyle Sullivan crashing over for Scottish’s second try as they pulled ahead 14-7. Gair Currie added a penalty for Sandy Bay to close the margin to 14-10 at half time.

Sandy Bay came out flying to start the second half, replicating their efforts from the first stanza as they drove the attack to the Scottish line. This time they turned to their standby scoring move with a maul from an attacking lineout working perfectly as hooker Jak Lam circled around to add to the eight-man shove before pivoting off the back for the score. Currie’s conversion was good and Sandy Bay reclaimed the lead 17-14.

Shortly thereafter Nardoni was handed a yellow card for slowing down the Sandy Bay attack in a prime position but Currie missed the ensuing penalty.

A man-down Scottish defended well and did not concede any further points before Nardoni’s return. They would score a great team try after returning to full strength, with Christie finishing a cracking interchange between flanker Sam Miller, scrumhalf Thomas Wilson and Baron, each of whom produced deft touches in traffic before the overlap opened out wide. Christie still had work to do with five metres left but he tiptoed along the line under pressure to score in the corner. Taylor’s conversion was no good but Scottish had taken the lead 19-17.

Action moved from end to end in a freewheeling and intense final quarter, as both sides threw everything into the effort. Sandy Bay No.8 Luke van der Smit came up with a key score, driving over from the base of a scrum ten meters from the Scottish line to bring his tally to a Premiership leading six tries on the season, and more importantly giving Sandy Bay back the advantage at 22-19.

The relentless Scottish attack soon put Sandy Bay on their heels with their backs to their try line. Under pressure, the ball squibbed out from a ruck and Scottish centre Lex Kaleca was first to the pill, diving to tap down for a heads-up score, as Scottish retook the lead, 26-22, after Taylor’s conversion.

With time running out flanker Dean Roussow was the hero for Sandy Bay, producing a gut-check try from second phase ball from a lineout five metres out from the Scottish line. Currie left matters in suspense by missing a sitter with the game on a knifes edge at 27-26, but the defence proved up to the task in the final stretch as they held off a few late attacks for a crucial victory.

A relieved Webster will now hope to string some wins together, “It was really important to get that win, really important. We said during the week that Scottish would keep coming for 80 minutes and they did. Our defence was really good, even though we allowed four tries, when we needed to we dug deep and kept them out.

“There are five big games now for us before Christmas. Losing is a habit and so is winning. The last weeks have been tough with guys coming off the pitch exhausted from working hard and losing close games. Now we are on the other side of that, we are still not happy with our performance, but we have the win. Hopefully one win leads to the next and we build momentum.”

It is a similar story for Jericevich as his side waits to get to full health for the first time in the campaign: “Guys really stepped up today in tough spots, and it was a whole squad effort. It is encouraging to see that we are not far away from it if we can do the simple things more effectively and consistently and take the opportunities we make. We are scoring 26 points, now how do we make that 29 or 31, we are not far away,” said Jericevich after his side dropped its third one-point game out of four, with just seven games played this season.

It was an accomplished performance by Gai Wu Falcons in the Dettol Women’s Premiership match with SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay, but it was also a long time coming for coach Andrew Li, who used the first half as an opportunity to develop depth as his team rebuilds from a wave of off-season retirements.

That selection generated an even and entertaining match in the first 40 with Gai Wu claiming an early try from a set piece beneath the Causeway Bay posts. Given the early score it felt as if the rout might be on, but a composed Causeway Bay XV kept Gai Wu out of its try-zone for the rest of the half. They even managed to collect their second try in as many weeks after going scoreless through the first five games of the season, as they levelled the score at half-time 7-all with a momentum shifting score heading into half-time.

The second half saw Li turn to his more experienced players and empty his bench. They responded by scoring 41 unanswered points down the home stretch for a convincing 48-7 win. Centre Wong Sze-ying was responsible for most of the damage collecting a hat trick in the second half, with Mavis Lam, Stephanie Chan and Jasmine Fung all getting on the score-sheet as Gai Wu powered past a fading Causeway Bay late.

For Li, it was all about the bench impact after the game; “We went close to 50, so I’m happy with the finish. At the end, we started showing how we should be playing, but you have to give credit to Causeway Bay, they have improved, and we respected that coming in. Each game now they are closing that margin and the tries are coming.”

Causeway Bay proved more than a match for Gai Wu’s new cadre of National League players stepping up to Premiership rugby this season.

“In the first half, we played to their game plan too much, and that made it really hard on ourselves. In the second half, we just turned to our experience. We had many girls resting in the first half and they responded well when they came on. We had six first choice players to add at halftime and that changed the complexion of the game.

“In the early part of the season it has been about building depth and giving players chances. Now heading into the middle of the league season, we cannot test that much longer. Going forward, the girls are going to have to step up. Everyone in this league is getting better every game,” said Li, who will now prepare his team for a difficult stretch of games with HKFC and Kowloon, both ahead of Gai Wu on the table, lying in wait.