18 Oct 2019

Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay and Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers backed up from a short turnaround after last Saturday’s triple slate of Saxo Markets Premiership rugby action in tonight’s Game of the Week at Kings Park. 


A fortunate bounce of the ball into winger Seb Brien’s hands helped Sandy Bay to a 21-13 win late in what was a stop-start midweek affair marred by malfunctioning scrum engagements and unforced errors as both sides struggle to convert their possession into points.


Sandy Bay had the upper hand from the kick-off as they moved the ball with ease early on, taking their first forays deep into attacking position and spending the first five scoreless minutes battering a Tigers line that bent but never broke.


After weathering the storm, Tigers worked their way into Sandy Bay territory for the first time in the eighth minute. That drive was spurred on by some effective scrum pressure exerted by new Tigers prop Tonga Tangitau, who forced his counterpart out of position to earn his side the first of over a dozen penalties awarded at the scrum in the match.


A quick tap and go from scrumhalf Owen Davies and some bruising short carries from the Tigers forwards brought the attack into the redzone and forced Sandy Bay to concede a penalty, giving Tigers a first chance to put points on the board, which they did courtesy of fly half Zac Hrstich, who handed the hosts a 3-0 lead after 8 minutes.


Sandy Bay replied positively, moving the ball back beneath the Tigers posts again from the re-start. Tigers’ defence was superb, producing more than 30 tackles with their backs to the line in the first 15 minutes without conceding a breach. Sandy Bay’s pressure would ultimately prove too much however, as Tigers conceded a penalty at the breakdown. Sandy Bay winger Jack Metters smartly opted for the easy points, slotting his penalty to knot the score at 3-all.


Tigers generated their second scoring opportunity of the half again off scrum pressure as they were awarded another advantage after blowing up another Sandy Bay scrum. Tigers kicked deep for the lineout and put in another positive series of forward carries and retaining possession before being halted at the line for another scrum. Tigers pressured the scrum brilliantly again, popping up Sandy Bay’s front to force the first penalty try of the season as Tigers nosed ahead 10-3 after 23 minutes.


As they had done after every kick-off to that point, Sandy Bay regained possession deep to set up another barrage of crash balls that finally produced a try when new fullback Iwan Phillips scored his first for Sandy Bay on an overlap out wide, replying just two minutes after Tigers had scored. Metters’ missed conversion from the touchline left Sandy Bay trailing 10-8 at half time.


The second half slowed down considerably with numerous penalties and an infringement at seemingly every scrum draining some of the energy from the game in the final stanza. Both sides turned ball over with regularity down the stretch with neither able to establish momentum as the game devolved into a whistle-fest.


Metters was first to take advantage of the penalty chances, slotting his first chance of the second half to give Sandy Bay its first lead at 11-10. He extended the margin to 14-10 five minutes later.

In the 62nd minute, Tigers converted a scoring opportunity from 40 metres out with full back Michael Moloney, who only joined the club earlier this week from Australia, slotting a pressure attempt to close the gap to 13-14.


As the game wore on, the action largely settled in the middle third of the park with neither side able to get into position to close it out. Tigers had the better late scoring opportunity from an attacking lineout inside Sandy Bay’s 22. Tigers brought the ball down under pressure to trigger a series of late charges on the line, but Sandy Bay proved up to the task as they held on brilliantly and marched the Tigers out of close scoring range with a good rush defence.


Hong Kong sevens squad member Jason Jeyam nearly changed the complexion of the game with a bit of brilliance for Tigers as he flashed down the left touchline from 40 metres out with a clear path to the line.  It took a try-saving tackle from the only other sevens squad member on the park in Sandy Bay winger Brien, whose ball and all try-saver on Jeyam bundled him into touch.


Sandy Bay controlled the lineout and captain Gair Currie poked the ball deep into the Tigers half. A bobbled throw-in off the top of the lineout took a lucky bounce for Brien, charging into the line off his wing. He palmed the ball easily and split the defence for a try that sealed a crucial 21-13 win. 


The late try pushed the losing margin for Tigers to eight points, preventing them from collecting their first points on the table, while the win puts Sandy Bay on the board with four points, good for tied second with Natixis HKFC and Bloomberg HK Scottish, each with a game in hand.


Sandy Bay coach Brett Wilkinson was pleased with the result if not the performance, saying, “It’s always good to get a win, but we were inconsistent and got ourselves in trouble. Pleased to have just got the job done, really, a win is a win and we needed that desperately to get points on the board.


“I take my hat off to the guys. Our defensive front was excellent, we went through long phases defending our line and it showed the character of the team with guys getting themselves off the ground to put the hits in,” Wilkinson added.


For Tigers captain Jamie Chipman the pieces are falling into place: “Obviously it’s a tough one to take after putting ourselves in a position to win. We played well in the first half and had the upper hand, 10-8 at half time, although that score didn't reflect the dominance we had.


“We had the upper hand in the scrum early on, but it seemed a bit of a lottery in the second. Our second half let us down. We gave them front foot ball and let them back in. In those pressure moments we have to learn how to be the team with the upper hand rather than the receiving team.


“There have been some changes this season and we are just out to improve, improve and improve. We started better tonight and are not far off it now, if we keep making steps like this, we’ll get that first win and are looking to get it next week,” added Chipman.


The win gives Sandy Bay its first points on the table as they climb into a three-way tie with Natixis HFKC and Bloomberg HK Scottish for second on four points (both Scottish and Football Club have a game in hand on Saturday) and behind Societe Generale Valley in first place. Tigers and Kerry Hotel Kowloon are both yet to post points on the table and lie in tied-fifth.