15 Feb 2019

A surging Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay XV is making the battle for the Grand Championships an interesting affair after three straight wins have lifted them into the top four on the table with two weeks remaining in the Saxo Capital Markets Premiership season.  This year’s Grand Championships will be restricted to the top four finishers on the Premiership table at season end.


After vital victories over Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish, both above them in the standings, in their last two outings, Sandy Bay are clinging to a Grand Championships play-off spot for the first time, currently in fourth place on 27 points, a single point ahead of Tigers.


League leaders Natixis HKFC again enjoy the spotlight in the Premiership Game of the Week tomorrow when they travel to King’s Park to meet Tigers, while Sandy Bay face Societe Generale Valley at So Kon Po and Kerry Hotel Kowloon look to hold the line against a determined Scottish outfit out to halt their late-season slide at Shek Kip Mei. All Premiership kick offs are at 15.00.


Scottish will be looking to regain their 2018 form after suffering a third straight defeat for the first time on the season last Tuesday when Sandy Bay handed them a surprise 37-27 loss.  


The late-season stumble by Scottish and Sandy Bay’s push from below have upended the season-long form with just two matches left to decide the league title.


As it stands HKFC are looking likely to host even more rugby silverware at Sports Road in a fortnight.  Scottish’s mid-week loss puts HKFC in commanding position to win the league, a win tomorrow over Tigers being enough to mathematically wrap up the championship, even before the final tie against Valley.


Now the top four finishers will be starting to plot their Grand Championship campaigns and Sandy Bay coach Brett Wilkinson is hoping that he will have work to do still come Sunday.


In his second season in Hong Kong, Wilkinson is relieved to see the long-awaited turnaround at Hong Kong’s newest Premiership super club saying, “I’m really pleased with the progress we are making now; we have given ourselves a chance [for the Grand Championships].”


He credited his side for instilling self-belief, “The team is really gelling now and guys are starting to have that belief in our structures, and that belief in ourselves and what we are out to achieve. The wins really help that...”


Sandy Bay will have to keep its ears pinned back to maintain their position and are still dependent upon other results, but Wilkinson understands what needs to be done on the pitch.


“We need to win all of our games coming up, but we also just need to keep backing ourselves; you know, what we do well let’s do it even better, and let’s continue to fix those things we have been slipping up on.


“We were leaking a lot of tries early in the year, so we worked really hard on our defensive structures and technique around the tackle area and breakdown. That has improved a lot, as has our accuracy in attack, and in the way we play and just being accurate in everything we’re doing.”


The challenge for Sandy Bay continues to grow with a match against Valley on Saturday looming as a must-win for club’s post-season hopes.


“Valley will be a really big game. They are very strong and well rounded. They have the power up front and they have exciting and dangerous backs that can really hurt you. We have to be aware of that and nullify that.


“It has been a difficult week for us, playing on Tuesday and with the short turnaround we couldn’t do much in training. The week has been about recovery and making sure that we are right for Valley. It’s been a different week, but we are well prepared.”


The loss of Zac Cinnamond and Mark Prior to slight injuries mid-week will mean that Wilkinson may need to throw the net a bit wider in selection.


“We took a few knocks against Scottish. It was a hugely physical game and Zac and Mark aren’t available, but all season long, some of the players on the fringe of the first team have really stepped up and done the job. It’s a testament to how much of this success has been a whole-squad effort,” Wilkinson added.