09 Feb 2018

The Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers are looking to lock away the league championship when they take on Bloomberg HK Scottish in the Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership at King’s Park at 4.30pm this Saturday.

Societe Generale Valley are the only team that can catch the Tigers and they face Natixis HKFC at Happy Valley from 3pm, while Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC welcome Kowloon to Aberdeen for a 3pm kick-off.

The chance of Valley surpassing Tigers at the top of the table remains slim, as the reigning five-time grand champions need to win with a bonus point, rely on Tigers losing, and make up an inferior points difference of 40.

The Tigers will be out to ensure it doesn’t come to that and enter their match with Scottish on the back of five wins on the trot and full of confidence. With a huge month of rugby ahead of his side, coach Sam Hocking is ensuring the squad won’t be looking too far ahead.

“It’s one game at a time at the moment, Scottish this week and then we will go from there,” he said.

Scottish are warming up at the right time of the year, defeating HKFC and Kowloon in their last two outings, and are out to upset the applecart. With the bottom half of the ladder set, Scottish know they will host Kowloon in the quarter-finals after Chinese New Year, but coach Craig Hammond is keen that his side maintain their momentum.

“It was great to get a win over Football Club and prove to ourselves that we can beat these top teams,” he said. “We have struggled all season with just missing out by a few points here and there so it is good to get a bit of confidence.

“But Saturday’s game is another stepping stone into the play-offs. We know we are playing Kowloon in the quarter-finals and we have to make sure we prepare well and have a crack at Tigers.

“They are gunning to win the league and it is not going to be an easy day at the office, they have been playing some good footy of late. You’re always looking ahead, but we decided after Christmas we would go week by week.”

Hammond can see everything beginning to fall into place for his side after a largely inconsistent year and he is hopeful Scottish can have an impact in the latter part of the season.

“There is a little bit more belief now, the boys defensively put in a massive shift against Football Club,” Hammond said.

“We had to work really hard defensively, that was a pleasing part of our game, and the boys are just working hard for each other.”

The match between Valley and HKFC not only sees Valley trying to pinch top spot but also Football Club attempting to jump up into second and earn the all-important week off in the first week of play-offs.

HKFC have been on the end of two tight losses in the last two matches, 17-16 to Scottish and 27-22 to Tigers, but coach Cameron McIntosh is confident there are no underlying issues.

“Valley have been the benchmark of the competition for the last five years but for us there is a lot to play for. There’s not huge things wrong with our game, just little things we have to work on to improve and obviously we’re not too far off, which is a good place to be.”

With the likes of Russ Webb, Mitch Andrews and Jamie Hood all on the way back from injury, McIntosh, while praising the depth in his squad, outlined the importance of earning an extra week off.

“As a squad we would really love that extra to week to get those guys training at full tilt again before we head into the big matches,” he said.

Kowloon and HKCC have the chance to fine-tune their games without any real pressure in the final match of the round, with the two teams guaranteed to fill the bottom two spots on the table.

“The last couple of weeks we have been focusing on performance and concerning ourselves with what we can do to continue to build,” said Kowloon coach James Scaysbrook.

“We did a lot of good stuff in the game but we unfortunately didn’t back enough positive sets together to get a real hold on the game,” Scaysbrook added about his side’s 35-33 loss to Valley last week.