TIGERS TRY TO TOPPLE VALLEY, HKFC & TAI PO SET FOR ARM WRESTLE IN KPMG GRAND CHAMPIONSHIPS WEEKEND

08 Mar 2019


Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Societe Generale Valley are the last Top 4 teams standing ahead of the KPMG Grand Championship final tomorrow (Kings Park, 1615), while Natixis HKFC Ice and Transact24 Tai Po Dragons battle it out for Premiership A honours at the same ground (1430).

With their first-line increasingly depleted, Tigers gutted out a win over Falcons on intensity alone in last weekend’s semi. That herculean effort will need repeating against a Valley juggernaut that won the league for the fourth time in five seasons this year, and are marking a fifth straight grand final appearance, chasing their first Grand Final trophy since 2017.

Tigers coach Fan Shun-kei is in last game of the season mode and encouraging his team to give their all one final time. After drafting in a number of replacement players from Tigers’ seconds in recent weeks, the squad will at least enter with a more settled feel for the biggest game of the year.

“We trained really well this week. They look confident but still with a little bit of nerves, which is a good thing. We are not trying to put too much pressure on; the girls played a really good game against Gai Wu and we need to replicate that intensity, that hype, this week to get something positive,” said Fan.

Fan’s approach is to keep Valley at arm’s length, something easier said than done this season: “We have to keep the ball. In defence we need to stop their forwards, because they are so strong. The biggest thing is that we cannot let them into our 22m. That is the key, because every time they have come into our 22 this season they score. If we can keep them in the middle of the field we will be alright.”

Tigers were successful in blunting another fearsome forward pack against Gai Wu last week, and will need to do it again against Valley, the other top scrummaging unit in Hong Kong.

“We need a good kicking game to move their forwards around a bit and try to get their heads down and to be ready to jump on any chances we make.”

The success or failure of his plan will revolve around the halfback combination of veteran Lindsay Varty at scrumhalf and first-year fly half Vivian Poon.

“They are both national players which helps their chemistry.

“Lindsay has been with Tigers for ages and she understands exactly what is required. Vivian transferred from Tai Po this season and was injured early. She came back and was playing 15, but I moved her to 10 for the final two games,” said Fan.

That move is paying dividends with Fan saying that Poon has been a livewire for the team in the absence of captain Natasha Olson-Thorne and other veterans, “She is an X-factor player and she controls the game well with her skill and match understanding. Her and Lindsay will have to step up again tomorrow, to control the game for us and keep the players motivated as well.”

Fan understands that it is Finals rugby and anything can happen, but he’s already proud of the achievement in the Tigers den this season, a year in which numerous age grade players have made their mark for the club and Hong Kong.

“We already did a good job reaching the final. Hopefully we can shake things up again, but we’ll see.”

While it may be a David versus Goliath affair in the Top 4, the Prem A championship promises a taut battle between Natixis HKFC Ice and Transact 24 Tai Po Dragons.  Club have hit their form after the split in the league, but coach Wesley Feausi knows it has both come too late and accounts for little on Saturday, saying: “If we had this form in the first round then I have no doubt that we would be in the Top 4, but it’s not based on your second half, you have to turn it on from the beginning.

“Having said that, Prem A has been a really good and tough comp for us and we’re not taking them lightly. Everyone’s on board: the Fong sisters, Royce Chan, Elizabeth Musgrove is back; we are all in.

“We need it too. From 1-23, they’re strong. I’m not surprised they’re in the final. They’re a quiet team and [coach Tsang] Hing-hung is a smart man and has done his homework. It will be tough. They know us and we know them, but it’s one thing knowing that and another thing coaching how to stop it.”

Feausi says that Dragons have one of the underrated forward packs in the competition, “It will have to start up front for us and we have prepared for that. It’s not our preferred game, given the quality in the backline, but we’ve trained for what we think they’ll bring.”

“These teams largely cancel each other out individually, so it will come down to the mental game. Whoever has their thinking caps on and doesn’t get carried away will be on the right side,” mused Feausi.

For his part Tai Po coach Tsang Hing-hung said his side is ready for anything Club will throw at them. His strategic approach gives weight to Feausi’s opinion that Tsang is one of the women’s game’s deep thinkers.

“Our preparation has been good and we even managed to add one more training session in this week.  We have focused a lot on our their weaknesses and tried to replicate the game in training with some high intensity and high pressure scenarios to get the playrs to adapt quicker on Saturday.”

Tsang also feels that there is little between the two sides this year, despite being  on the wrong end of previous results this season.

 

“It's a 50-50 game. We played them close before, despite missing a few of our Hong Kong players. Now they are back and we are stronger but we still have to make sur we don’t get distracted and we minimise errors; playing direct is our best approach tomorrow.”

 

Tsang is even more positive about what next season holds in store:

 

“As a team and as individuals it takes time to grow. We definitely grew a lot over this season, especially in our game reading and critical moment control. Hopefully we can carry that on to next season. We have also managed to promote several players from NL1 to our senior squad throughout the year and I believe 7 or 8 of them can stay in the Premiership next year.”

 

With both teams rapidly improving HKFC and Tai Po Dragons are out to transform the Top 4 into a Super 6 next season.

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