Round 11 of the Rugbypass.com Men’s Premiership again highlighted just how even the competition is this season, with bottom side Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers pushing Bloomberg HK Scottish all the way in a 35-27 loss and Kowloon defeating top side Societe Generale Valley 25-15.
Kowloon’s victory ensured the race for the league championship remains wide open, with four sides all having live chances, while the final match of the round saw Natixis HKFC beat Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC 31-28.
At King’s Park, Scottish came from 20-6 down at half time to land a win that puts them just a point behind Valley on the table.
“They are at the bottom of the table and they were 20 points to six up and looking pretty dangerous,” Scottish coach Craig Hammond said.
“They are a class team and when you go through the teamsheets there are no easy games, there are no rubbish players out there now. It’s going to be an exciting finish to it.”
Scottish established the upper hand in the scrum early in the match and the crafty kicking of fly half Gregor McNeish ensured the visitors had the run of play.
McNeish got the scoring underway with a penalty and made it 6-0 soon after with a drop goal from close range, however Tigers were able to limit any further damage with some desperate defending.
McNeish’s opposite number Robbie Keith hit back for the hosts with a penalty of his own as the first quarter of the match drew to a close.
The back end of the first half was all Tigers, with the home side grabbing the lead through a try to No 8 Josh Hrstich and forging further ahead when Tomo Howells crossed.
Keith added the extras on both occasions to ensure the Tigers entered the break with a healthy 20-6 lead.
After half time, Scottish showed the grit that has seen them be one of the most impressive sides in the competition this season, working their way back into the match.
Their comeback was largely due to the brilliance of centre Conor Hartley, whose three-try blitz turned a 14-point deficit into a seven-point lead for Scottish.
Hartley was the beneficiary of some slick passing from his teammates but was unstoppable, crossing three times in 15 minutes.
“He’s a big bugger, I thought when I met him he was a second-rower, but I’m pretty glad he plays in the centres or on the wing for us,” Hammond said.
“He’s a young bloke, he’s just turned, I think, 24 and he runs pretty hard and he is a pretty good threat with the ball in hand. He kind of carried that second half for us and really put some pressure on them.”
Tigers stemmed the bleeding as the half wore on and a McNeish penalty that made it 30-20 was the only score for some time.
Just when it looked as though Scottish would coast to any easy victory, Tigers found a way, with Chiefs development player Joseph Ikenasio crossing the line after some sharp passing to bring the scoreline to 30-27.
The match looked destined for a grandstand finish but Scottish winger Austin Robertshaw didn’t read the script, intercepting a Tigers pass near the halfway line and streaking away for the final try of the match.
“We always said it was going to be that team that came out after the Christmas break and were firing,” Hammond said.
“It was good to get a bonus point right at the end, we don’t get too many bonus points as the defence is so good this season, there aren’t a lot of bonus points in the league. I’m happy with the boys and that keeps us climbing up the table.”
Kowloon trailed early in their win over Valley but matched the top side throughout the first half and then took the ascendancy in the second half.
“I’m happy with the result but not necessarily happy with everything through the game,” Kowloon coach James Scaysbrook said.
“I thought the forwards did really well today, I thought they were really on and we were winning the scrum, that’s been a big weapon for Valley and we were really pleased with that. Everything was built on that today.”