05th Nov 2021

After last weekend revolved around Hong Kong rugby’s oldest rivalry, tomorrow’s Dettol Men’s Premiership Game of the Week is all about the upstarts as surprise packets DAC Kowloon faces off with Kroll USRC Tigers at King’s Park at 15.00.  DAC Kowloon Ladies have a tough task against Kroll USRC Tigers at 18.30 at the same ground.

Kowloon’s men’s team are sitting comfortably, tied-first in the Premiership, after getting underway with a 3-0 start that included handing co-leaders HKFC their only defeat on the year, at Sports Road to boot.  KPMG HK Scottish pipped Kowloon by one point in week five, but the King’s Park crew bounced back with a second convincing win over Sandy Bay to open round two, bringing their record to 4-1.

With a team built around top shelf local talent like Fong Kit-fung and Sam Tsoi Kin-san and a gritty forward pack led by captain Dave Markham and James Sawyer, Kowloon are in envious position approaching the Premiership mid-point.  Coach Joe Barker, in his first season in charge, was unsurprised at his team’s league leading spot.

“The lads are going well, aren’t they? We maybe didn’t expect first place, but we are where we wanted to be ahead of the year, and we are doing everything we need to do to put ourselves in this position. All pre-season our mind-set was about winning and the boys have put in the work behind that, but we are not the finished product yet, we need to keep improving,” said Barker.

“We put emphasis on the lads having the freedom to do what they are good at this season. They have a lot of license to back themselves in the moment, and as a result, they have taken ownership of the season, there is more care for the process, and input into the game plan and execution and training.

“We want to build our game around that approach where players can feel the fun of playing. That is what we do it for, to be fun. We want to build up our brand around exciting rugby to grow the club and also to grow the game across Hong Kong, which will benefit everyone,” Barker added.

Saturday will be a big test for Kowloon as they try to fend off third-placed Tigers (11 points) for a second time this season.  Tigers are in a knife fight of their own, trying to hold off KPMG HK Scottish (4th place, 10 points) and Societe Generale Valley (5th place, 9 points) all on a similar 2-3 record on the table.  

Bonus points are already proving decisive and Tigers hold the margin with three collected from their five games, one of those coming for a loss less than seven - in week two when Kowloon beat them 34-30.

On the positive side of the ledger, Tigers’ other bonuses have come from scoring four or more tries in games with wins over HK Scottish and Valley already this season under new coach Lewis Evans.

After accumulating some injuries, the last two ties have been less than kind to Tigers with wide margin losses, 10-52 to HKFC and 27-42 to Scottish.  They also enter round two without the services of their Hong Kong Sevens squad contingent and will be hard pressed to halt the two-match losing streak coming into the battle of King’s Park (the home ground for both sides) on Saturday.

“Tigers are very tough, and while they do have injuries at key positions that doesn't mean they are weak. They are struggling with personnel, but Lewis will have them ready. They are very strong in key areas and their captain [Lawrence Miller] is very, very good. He seems to be always scoring tries, even when it looks like there’s nothing on, he’s scoring. They are pretty tries as well, so we have got to watch out for him. They have a lot of old heads in the forwards and some very sharp wings, so we can’t let them get a sniff of front foot ball,” Barker added.

But for Barker, who has been with Kowloon as a player since 2019, the biggest results are rolling in from off pitch this season:  “We have made a real effort to dig in around the Club this year and to incorporate everyone more fully, that includes our Women’s Premiership team, which is going great. They are performing well and playing some exciting rugby now. They have only been going for a few years but are already fielding a second team so this is something we really want to encourage.

“So, we are coming together as a whole club, with five men’s teams, two women’s teams and an U18s side. Getting everyone involved will help us be more sustainable and attract new members to the club. We want to build our club around the kind of approach where players can feel the fun of playing. That is why we play, for it to be fun. We want our brand to be exciting rugby because that will help grow the club and grow the game across Hong Kong which will benefit everyone,” added Barker.

DAC Kowloon Ladies are doing their bit to keep that brand alive with a promising start to the season, entering the Dettol Women’s Premiership Game of the Week in third place on the table, two points behind their opponents Kroll USRC Tigers.  

Tigers were one of the dominant teams in round one but faltered to start round two with an 18-12 loss to Gai Wu Falcons last week.

Kowloon coach Terry Sibanda is pleased with his team’s obvious progress this year, but is still after more consistency after Kowloon has run the results gamut with two wins over Causeway Bay, losses to Tigers and Natixis HKFC, and even a draw with Falcons to date.

“We are still taking things one game at a time but we aren’t quite ‘there’ yet. We were slightly unprepared early in the season for those big games with Tigers and Football Club, but we came back late to draw Gai Wu, and had a big win over Causeway Bay on our last few outings, so we are on the rise. There is no doubt amongst the team that we can win.”

Tigers will be a useful benchmark for Sibanda’s squad after a tough round one loss to the same opponents, 21-7: “That match was a bit one-sided and we didn’t show up defensively, so that is something that we are out to improve on for Saturday.”

With Tigers missing several Hong Kong sevens squad members on representative duty, the time could be ripe to sneak a win, but Sibanda doesn’t believe they will be any less strong than usual.   

“Their depth is strong, so we are under no illusion that it will be anything other than a tough match, but it won’t be about them, it will be about us. Our main takeaway across the club this season is confidence and self-belief, we know we can achieve some very good results, we also know that it takes hard work.”

He attributed much of the team’s success to their improved balance this season. A trio of New Zealanders sprinkled throughout the starting XV have gelled well with local stars like prop Dodo Chan, and talented young wingers, Georgia Rivers and Julia Mibuy Mya Oyana, who is coming off a four-try demolition of Causeway Bay, adding new and unexpected dimensions to Kowloon’s attack.

 “Against Tigers, I think it will come down to whether or not we can grab control of the game early on, maintain our discipline defensively and take advantage of the opportunities we create,” said Sibanda.