10 Mar 2019

Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers claimed their first Premiership Grand Final in 18 years tonight after beating Societe Generale Valley in a nail-biter, 13-8, at King’s Park to claim the KPMG Top 4 trophy.  Natixis HKFC Ice beat Transact24 Tai Po Dragons 22-12, behind a hat trick for Scotland star Elizabeth Musgrove to win the KPMG Premiership A Grand Final.

It looked as if Valley might cruise through another outing after they drove for an opening try on their first foray into Tigers territory. With their heels on the line, the defence couldn’t stop rumbling prop Jasmine Cheung who crashed over for an early try. It was an ominous sign for Tigers, whose game plan revolved around keeping Valley out of their red zone, but Zoe Smith’s missed conversion gave them a slight reprieve as they trailed 5-0.

Tigers visibly built confidence as the half went on, helped by their ability to finally move play into the middle of the pitch with some sustained possession, and despite what was a dominant showing from Valley’s pack, who manhandled the Tigers scrum and spent most of the half in their opponents’ backline.

The Tigers defence held firm, and scrumhalf Lindsay Varty managed a retreating scrum well to help Tigers keep possession and prevent their opponents from finding their rhythm. Despite creating more opportunities in the first half, Valley’s accuracy deserted them, aided by the wet conditions and perhaps a bit of pressing at crucial times.  

Tigers were handed another break midway through the half when Valley’s No.8 was sin binned for a dangerous tackle. Taking advantage of the rare extra space, Tigers winger Bena Yu found a gap in the line to drive play into Valley’s 22.  Good recycling produced the ball for hooker Charlotte Myrans who put in a clever grubber to create space to score; Myrans’ conversion gave Tigers their first lead, 7-5, heading into half time.

Tigers were back on the attack immediately in the second half, with only some great poaching defence from flanker Toto Cheng keeping them from growing their lead early on. Valley were finding their groove and starting to threaten when flanker Suzanne Sittko was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle in the 65th minute. Myrans slotted the resulting penalty to increase the lead to 10-5 entering the final quarter.

A 14-strong Valley responded with an immense effort, retaining the ball for the rest of the penalty as they camped out in the Tigers half. After Sittko’s return, Valley increased the intensity even further, going so far as to put Cheung over the line again, but this time there was a Tiger beneath her as the referee waved off the score.

Myrans had another successful pot at goal late, pushing the margin to 13-5, and giving Tigers the first lead of the match larger than a converted try.

But Valley came right back, led by player-coach Bella Milo, who shrugged off injury to contribute to Valley’s longest period of possession of the match, forcing a Tigers penalty which Zoe Smith converted to close the gap to 13-8.

Valley was again in scoring position inside the final minutes with an attacking lineout deep but the execution was off, returning possession to the Tigers, who did enough over the final minutes to close out the club’s first Premiership title since 2000.

The only current player on the squad with memories of that millennial moment was Lindsay Varty, a then 12-year who has now come full circle with the club. The stalwart was overjoyed, saying, “It’s been 18 years to get back here. I should have retired years ago, but I am still here and I am just so proud of my team and so happy that I could share this moment with them. This team is a family and everyone worked so hard for this result and for each other. It is a very intense feeling, we love each other so much and I’m so happy.”

The result may even be enough to lure Varty to King’s Park for a 19th year, and next season could be one worth returning for as well, with the club poised for some sustained success.

“We have so much depth; even though we lost key players like Natasha [Olson Thorne] and Lara Schats, these young girls proved that they have a lot of good years in them still. Watch out for Tigers next year,” added a delighted Varty.

The message was much the same from Natixis HKFC Ice coach Wesley Feausi as he celebrated his side’s 22-12 win over Transact24 Tai Po Dragons in a match that was tighter than the score indicates.

Football Club jumped out to a 15-0 half-time lead after tries from Pinky Chun and a first half brace from Scotland international Elizabeth Musgrove. But no one told Dragons the match was over, as they stormed back in the second half to close the gap to 15-12 entering the final quarter. In the 78th minute, the Dragons were pressing the attack deep in Club territory when a turnover saw the ball pop up for Musgrove, who pinned her ears back for an 80-metre try that sealed the silverware for Sports Road’s finest.

First year coach Feausi was pleased with a gutsy effort from his side to come through a testing affair: “In the first half we thought the game was over and in the second they really came back and pushed us, full credit to Tai Po, that was worthy of a final.”

Despite losing Musgrove to her native UK next season, the building blocks remain in place for Feausi.

“What can you say about Elizabeth? She is going back to the UK to play and to be closer to national training for Scotland, and that is a big loss for us, but there is a lot we can take from tonight and this season.

“The girls like Rosie Hopewell Fong and Rachel Fong, Royce Chan, Aileen Ryan, they are our leaders and full credit to the team, they really came back across a tough year. They are all still here next season, so there is a lot to work with in this group, but today belongs to them. They earned it.

Musgrove enjoyed a stellar debut season in Hong Kong. “It was such a good season. Everyone is so welcoming here and I could not have asked for a better club to be a part of, and to top off the season like this is just phenomenal.

“The standard is growing in Hong Kong and is only going to get better. The depth in the teams here is great, you know 60 girls coming down for training, and it is the same across all of the age grades. Hong Kong is really behind women’s rugby,” Musgrove added.

After two KPMG Grand Finals like today’s, it is easy to see why everyone is backing the women’s game in Hong Kong.