Societe Generale Valley made it five grand championships in a row in the HKRU RugbyPass.com Premiership on Saturday, defeating Kowloon 22-13 in an absorbing battle.
It was by no means all one way traffic, with Kowloon controlling play at times in the first half and drawing within a point in the second, but Valley’s experience and winning know-how shone through in the end.
Both teams were keen early in the contest and at times showed an over-exuberance not uncommon in the opening stages of a big match.
This led to a penalty attempt for each side, with Kowloon’s Jack Neville unable to answer Ben Rimene’s opener, ensuring Valley held a 3-0 lead for much of the first quarter.
The best chance for the opening try came after 20 minutes, with Kowloon pushing forward and putting the Valley defence under immense pressure on their line.
That pressure forced the league champions to falter and give away a penalty, however after Kowloon decided to take the kick, Neville was again off target.
As all good sides do, Valley made Kowloon pay for their miss, with Rimene making no mistake with his second penalty attempt to make it 6-0 after 23 minutes.
Valley, who were missing co-captain Tom Broughton who was a late withdrawal due to illness, began to get on top as the first half wore on, with their fierce tackling setting the tone and driving Kowloon back.
Kowloon got their chance to work back into the game when Valley’s Karetai Williams was yellow carded after 27 minutes and they used their kicking game well to keep Valley rooted in their own half.
However Valley kept coming up with the goods at the breakdown, orchestrating a number of turnovers and showing strength in the set pieces.
It was after Valley had returned to full strength that Kowloon finally broke their drought, with Neville finding his radar right on half time to make it 6-3 at the break.
Kowloon came out hard in the opening minutes of the second half, stringing together multiple phases on the Valley five-metre line. They were again unsuccessful though, with Valley winning the ball back and finding the first score of the half through yet another Rimene penalty.
Kowloon hit back within minutes, with the game going up another notch when Thomas Bury crossed for the first try of the evening.
Neville had a chance to put his side in the lead but missed to continue his tough night in front of the sticks, with the score staying at 9-8.
The Valley line-out, which coach Andrew Kelly described last week as awful, was operating far better, with hooker Dayne Jans throwing superbly, while the Valley forward pack was also on top at the scrum.
Rimene was again on the end of some good work from the Valley forwards at the scrum, slotting his fourth penalty to make the score to 12-8 as the 60 minute mark passed.
Kowloon’s ill-discipline proved costly once more after 62 minutes, with Rimene continuing his faultless kicking display to slot a penalty from the sideline to push the score to 15-8.
It was party time for Valley minutes later, with an ecstatic Reece Hamon crossing to give his side a match-winning buffer.
Hamon and fellow substitute Grant Kemp, who was named man of the match for his work in the front row once coming on, were crucial as Valley pulled away.
“We were fortunate to go in 6-3 at half-time. Kowloon had the territory, they broke us a fair few times and we did well to keep in there,” Valley coach Andrew Kelly said.
“We had the bench to come on and make a difference and Kempy did exactly that. Reece Hamon was spot on with everything he did.”
A yellow card to captain Phil Whitfield with 10 minutes remaining ensured Kowloon’s cause became even more dire, however they refused to lie down.
Showing all the guts and determination that has been prevalent in their game all season, prop Angus Dixon barged over to give his side a slight glimmer of hope.
Neville was off target with the tricky conversion attempt and the Kowloon effort proved to be too little to late, although coach James Scaysbrook remained proud of his charges’ effort.
“Obviously we have ultimately come up short tonight and giving away too many penalties has resulted in us losing, but I’m immensely proud of how they have played all year,” Scaysbrook said.
“The form we have shown in the back two thirds of the season has been amazing. I’m very proud of the progress we have made over the course of the two years I have been here. There is no reason why we can’t kick on again next year.”