17 Jan 2020

An intense ten-round Saxo Markets Premiership league comes to a close on Saturday with a Hong Kong rugby classic match-up between defending league champions Natixis HKFC and Societe Generale Valley when they do battle at 15.00 at Happy Valley with league honours at stake.


The stage is set for some fitting final fireworks as the two deepest sides in the Premiership face off to close their campaigns.


HKFC enter with the slight edge, boasting a superior 8-1 record and 37 points on the table, over second-ranked Valley, 7-2 with 35 points, heading into the final match with the league in the balance. That edge includes a 16-6 win for Club in their only Premiership meeting this season, while Valley handed Club one of its two season long defeats in the Premiership Challenge back in September.


That was a high point of a bumpy start for Valley, who grinded their way into contention in the early part of the contest before picking up speed late in the season. Now they enter the end of year a polished and prepared outfit with a chance to pip their long-standing rivals for the league title.


303 points from nine outings show the dangers of Club’s offensive firepower, starting with the unerring boot of fly half Glyn Hughes, partnering with Hong Kong scrumhalf Jamie Lauder tomorrow, and rounded out by impactful centres pairing Tom Hill and Ben Axten-Burrett, with Fionn Carr, Eremia Tapsell and the recently capped Nate De Thierry in the back three.


With a pack anchored by Mitch Andrews, Campbell Wakely, Sam Pim and Jevon Groves, the combination has proved fearsome, as Club has been largely unstoppable for the past two seasons, after capturing their first league title in eight years to cap the 2018 season.


That victory was muted by a surprise early exit in the grand championships leaving the desired double for this season’s crew to accomplish, a target that coach Jack Wiggins has steered them towards capably once again.


But a revitalised Valley will pose a genuine threat to Club’s double dreams.


A rare season without silverware last year proved unacceptable it seems at the other pillar club of Hong Kong rugby. That has led to a renewed chase this season led by club stalwart and coach Andrew Kelly, who seems to be demanding as much of his side as a coach as he did as a player, before he leaves to resume his coaching career in Scotland at the end of the season.


His team has responded throughout the year with gritty wins when needed and will be looking forward to the challenge on Saturday. Led by Rob Lennox and the most complete forward pack in Hong Kong, with pace and aggression in spades, and bolstered by a muscular scrumhalf in Ruan DuPlooy, Valley’s physical threat remains the most potent in the competition top to bottom and will pose a formidable challenge for Club.


The attack has been finding its footing in the back half of the season with Mitchell Purvis coming on in the centres pairing with hard-running Peni Latu. Liam Owens will man the no.10 jersey alongside DuPlooy tomorrow, while new arrival to the club this season Whiria Meltzer starts at fullback partnering Kevin Field and Hugo Stiles on the wings.


With the red and black defending their home ground on a day when their women’s side will close out the league title at home as well, the encounter should prove illustrative for the grand finals. Grand Finals has traditionally been the time for Valley to peak in recent seasons, but their momentum building performance in the league season belies a seemingly rekindled desire to set another marker in this new uber-competitive era of Hong Kong rugby.


There will be plenty of jostling going on around the Premiership as well with Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay squaring off with Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish at 15.00 at So Kon Po in a battle between the two remaining teams to qualify for the grand championship play-offs. 


All that needs to be settled is the final standings with Sandy Bay presently in fourth place, trailing Scottish by three points on the table with a chance to move up into a presumably better play-off bracket with a win. 


Kerry Hotels Kowloon will meet Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers at Kings Park at 15.15 as they battle to finish disappointing campaigns with a final win to close out the year.