The league championship is effectively up for grabs in the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s Rugbypass.com Men’s Premiership this weekend, with the winner of the clash between Bloomberg HK Scottish and Societe Generale Valley all but assured the trophy. The teams are level on points with two games remaining and will enter Saturday’s blockbuster at Shek Kip Mei with close to full-strength sides.
Elsewhere, Natixis HKFC take on Kowloon at Football Club in a game Kowloon must win to remain an outside chance of grabbing a top-two spot. Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers travel to Aberdeen to take on Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC, with the loser likely to finish the minor round at the bottom of the ladder.
All matches kick off at 4.30pm and Scottish coach Craig Hammond knows it is all or nothing for his vastly improved outfit against the ever-dangerous Valley.
“It’s throw the kitchen sink at it stuff this weekend, if you come out second the likelihood of trying to win next weekend and win the league would be a pretty tough ask,” he said.
“You have got to respect them [Valley], they have been champions the past few years for a reason and you look at their form in the last few games and they have started playing some really good footy. They have been pretty destructive up front in their set piece, as always, and around the fringes.”
Hammond says his charges are fresh after the latest league break and although Scottish are eagerly awaiting the game, he is doing his best to keep a lid on things in the build-up.
“This is the big one for us but it is also just another game,” he said, adding that, “There is a little bit more riding on this game but I’m making sure the boys don’t get too excited.”
Valley will benefit as much as anyone in the Premiership from the availability of Hong Kong’s sevens players, with the likes of Max Woodward, Ryan Meacheam, Ben Rimene and Toby Fenn all set to return.
“We can do our homework and our analysis on them but we have got to be in the right place to stop them,” Hammond said.
“Starting well is a big one for us, the last few weeks we have let teams get a bit of a head start and then we chase them down in the second half. We can’t do that this weekend against Valley.”
Destructive centre Conor Hartley and canny fly half Gregor McNeish will be crucial for Scottish, as will the strength of prop Jack Parfitt and loose forwards Josh Dowsing and Kane Boucaut.
Valley coach Andrew Kelly is hoping to see an improved effort to the one that saw his side draw with Tigers before the Lunar New Year break.
“What is key for us is getting our execution right,” he said. “A few of our systems broke down during the Tigers game, especially when they put us under pressure, so our focus is making sure we execute our systems and complete our phase attacks even when we are under pressure. When it’s not going our way the question is can we front up and play the game we want to play?”
A true testament to just how even this season has been is the fact that Kowloon risk finishing the season in fourth if they go down to HKFC this week. The flip side is that a win will keep them in the hunt for a week off in the first round of the grand finals, but coach James Scaysbrook is keeping his eye on the ball.
“It’s been a long couple of weeks so we can’t wait to get back into it,” he said.
“It’s definitely an important game, there’s a lot to play for and a lot of different permutations around where the league is at, but we are just focusing on trying to maintain those things that have been good for us over the last few rounds.”
HKFC’s Phil Bailey is realistic about where his side sits despite the fact they were in the mix for top spot just weeks ago.
“We are there or thereabouts, we are starting to piece it together but we aren’t the full package at the moment,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see how we perform after the break. Kowloon are a very good side, they’re good over the ball, they’re direct and they play you for 80 minutes. They look to win all of the little battles, so there are no easy yards anywhere.”
HKCC will be hoping to take the first step towards putting a difficult season behind them ahead of the grand finals by escaping bottom place against the Tigers.
Injuries have stunted the Cricketers progress all season, however, with every team qualifying for the play-offs, all is not lost and whichever side gets the points on Saturday will be looking to ride that momentum through to the business end of the season.
RugbyPass.com Men's Premiership Game of the Week
Bloomberg HK Scottish v Societe Generale Valley