24 Oct 2015

The fourth round of the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) Premiership promises to deliver fireworks when second plays third in the match of the round this Saturday.

Third-placed USRC Borrelli WalshTigers and second-placed Bloomberg HK Scottish take to King’s Park 1 at 18:00 in a game that will be a stern test for Tigers, this season’s surging surprise package.

In the earlier confrontations on Saturday, last season’s Grand Champions and this season’s ladder leaders Societe Generale Valley tackle the winless Sabre Kowloon (16.30, Happy Valley 8) and Leighton Asia Hong Kong Cricket Club (HKCC) face Natixis Hong Kong Football Club (16.30, Aberdeen).

As much as the game of Round 4 at King’s Park is a challenge for Tigers, it is also an intriguing clash of styles that pits a rugged pack against the point-scoring firepower of a Scottish backs unit that has been devastating when it clicks.

Tigers have upset the balance of power in the Premiership this year, notching wins against a slow-starting HKFC combination (Round 1, 24-16) and league stragglers Kowloon (Round 3, 26-14).

But this weekend’s top billing against an in-form Scottish team fresh from a 46-19 win over Football Club last week is an altogether more challenging prospect. If there was ever a time to lay down a marker early in the season, it is this Saturday for Tigers.

“It’s a big weekend coming up. Obviously Scottish are a good side,” said Tigers head coach Craig Stewart.

“It will be important to control the game on our terms, getting our decision-making right. You can be sure they won’t give us too many second chances.”

While the Tigers new head coach has brought quality players, points and a hard-working edge to the club, the combinations haven’t yet clicked. Stewart was critical of the control shown by his team last week.

“A lot of our guys are still disappointed with how we played at the weekend, and looking to put things right. We know we can be much better,” said Stewart.

But after a luckless past couple of seasons, strewn with injuries to key players, the Tigers coach is grateful for a promising start to the season, but mindful of what lies ahead. Comfortingly for Stewart, the team has no injury concerns heading into Saturday’s match.

“We are obviously happy to have bagged a couple of wins. We’re realistic. We’ve got a couple of big games over the next two weeks. It’s still early days in the season.”

Amplifying the extent of the task before them on Saturday is the offensive firepower of a Scottish team that unleashed seven tries against Football Club in a 46-19 win at Shek Kip Mei.

They were led admirably upfront by co-captain and No.8 Kane Boucaut and at the back by No.15 Ben Cullen who helped themselves to a pair of five-pointers. They were steered around the park by scrumhalf Mikey Moeahu, a man with experience in the New Zealand U19s and with the Western Force Academy.

That display came after some outstanding running rugby against the Cricketers the week before, when a match-winning 15-minute period of the second half saw them put a hat-trick of tries over the whitewash.

Scottish could not be accused of getting ahead of themselves, if the comments of Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish general manager Bryan Rennie are any guide.

“It’s going to be a tough game. Tigers have turned themselves around this season,” Rennie said.

“We’re coming off a good win. It’s going to be an interesting game and the boys are looking forward to it.”

“Tigers have quite a strong pack, so we expect a big battle up front. It will be pretty physical. Our guys are going to have to be on their game up front and in set-pieces.”

Rennie has been pleased with the start to the season enjoyed by four newcomers to The Rock. Aside from Cullen and Moeahu, Scottish have welcomed Ben Tyler to the backs. Up front, Englishman George Fleming has lent starch to the second row.

Rennie says the team has been “fairly injury-free” and to expect a similar line-up from the past fortnight. Even so, any team would miss the irrepressible Diggy Bird at fly-half. Rennie says the 24-year-old is on the mend.

Elsewhere around the league on Saturday, Round 4 of the Women’s Premiership sees a double-header at Shek Kip Mei. The Sabre Kowloon Ladies take on the CPM Gai Wu Falcons (16:30, Shek Kip Mei) in the afternoon game, with SCAA First Pacific CWB Phoenix CWB and Transact 24 Tai Po Dragon Ladies kicking off at 18:00. The third game of the round sees neighbours Natixis HKFC Ice and Societe Generale Valley Black Ladies go head-to-head at the Football Club from 18:00.