04 Feb 2018

The Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers moved a big step closer to winning the league championship in the Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership on Thursday night, seeing off Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC 28-17.

The round’s other matches saw Bloomberg HK Scottish surprise Natixis HKFC in a 17-16 victory, while, on Friday, SocieteGeneraleValley kept their narrow hopes alive with a nail-biting 35-33 win over Kowloon.

It was the Tigers who opened the scoring in the early stages of our game of the week, with centre Braam Gerber finding the line and Robbie Keith adding the extras to give his side an early 7-0 lead.

The Cricketers were forced to work far harder for their points, with scrum half Jack Metters splitting the sticks to get the ball rolling.

However, HKCC kept Tigers pinned back in their half throughout the middle of the first half, pressuring their opponents into making mistakes and winning penalty after penalty.

Metters kept delivering, slotting through three more kicks from the tee as his side edged in front 12-7.

The Tigers always looked likely, however, and hit back in the shadow of half-time through second-rower Lawrence Miller.

Keith was again on target to ensure his side went into the break with a 14-12 lead, setting the scene for a big second half.

It never quite eventuated, as Tigers took control through the brilliance of scrum half Josh Walden.

The New Zealander was a class above, setting up play and crossing twice as his side built a 28-12 lead and never again looked troubled.

“To be fair to them, they played really well in that first half,” Tigers coach Sam Hocking said. “They put us under a lot of pressure and when they put us under pressure we gave away penalties.

“Just how we responded after half-time [is what impressed me], we talked about keeping it simple, putting them under pressure the way they were putting us under pressure and they delivered in that first 20 minutes after the break.”

The Cricketers did get a late consolation try when Metters put winger Seb Brien over with a centimetre-perfect kick in the final seconds of the match.

“The last game and this game have been pleasing. Our performance has improved and we are on an upward curve,” HKCC coach Brett Wilkinson said.

“The result is not there but I’m very happy with the work rate and the trajectory we are on coming towards the end of the season. It is about us winning mini battles and we are starting to win more and more of those.

“It’s been a hell of a tough season but it is just about lifting the heads and plying forward, there’s still a huge prize to play for so all is not lost.

“At the moment we have got 15 or 16 injuries and about six of our second team playing for us too, so it has stretched us massively. Clearly depth is something we have to work on, but the guys that are coming in, you can’t fault their effort, they are giving everything.”

Hocking is already looking – cautiously – towards the Grand Championships: “It’s just one game at a time at the moment, Scottish next and then we will go from there,” he said.

But the round belongs to Tigers, who if hold their nerve in the final round of the regular season next week have a good chance of being crowned league champions.