10 Nov 2017

It’s an all-day cavalcade of rugby action at King’s Park tomorrow in the KPMG Women’s Premiership. Getting the party started at 13.30 are Comvita City Sparkle and Transact 24 Tai Po Dragons, ahead of the top-of-the-table clash between SocieteGenerale Valley and Eco Gai Wu Falcons (15.00). Third- and fourth-placed Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers and Natixis HKFC Ice take to the stage at 16.30, followed by SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay and Kowloon Ladies at 18.00.

Among four strong match-ups, it’s the traditionally competitive Valley–Gai Wu game that most catches the eye.

A Valley win would see them unbeaten for two and a half seasons but coach Bella Milo rejects the notion that progress so far has been a cakewalk. Her side have had to dig in and overcome challenges in several of the games so far, she says.

Milo expects a physical encounter and is focused on meeting GaiWu’s strength at the breakdown, which is where the game will be won and lost, she thinks.

“If we can secure that breakdown ball, we can the ball out wide where we want to play,” she said.

Most of her players are fit and available, with only Suzanne Sittkoon the sidelines. But she has been forced to transition a couple of backs to forward roles to cover an imbalance in the squad, and will start with only three forwards on the bench.

Gai Wu’s Lai Yiu Pang is also looking forward to the encounter.

“We have our sevens girls back in the team, and our preparation and training have been much better these last couple of weeks. It’ll be a close game, and gives us a chance to test ourselves. If we can manage our defence, then we have a chance to create opportunities to attack,” he said.

With Melody Li Nim Yan and Christy Cheng both out for a while, and Pun Wai Yan also out, Lai sees a chance to blood some younger players against his side’s traditional foe. Not that he is taking Valley lightly.

“If nothing changes, then they are the strongest side as usual. They have experienced players – strong ball carriers and smart decision makers who can attack from anywhere,” he notes.

A secret weapon may be New Zealand outside centre Greer Muir, making her first start after a second-half appearance last week. Recently a member of the Black Ferns Wider Training Squad, Muir joins Gai Wu from the successful Otago Spirit club.

Both coaches are excited about the second half of the season, playing in areduced Premiership of the four top-placed sides, along with Tigers and HKFC, before all eight recombine to contend for the Grand Championships.

Valley’s Milo said, “The split will be great for us – good for our selection process, and our preparation. Each week is going to be a tough game, and there will be a lot more competition for playing places within our squad. Plus, it’s going to be a challenge for the coaching team to keep the necessary consistency in the squad.”

Lai agrees, excited by the prospect of more competitive games every week, but needing to address the new operating environment.

“There will be less opportunity to rest,’ he said. “The last couple of seasons have been more about two or three teams. Now with two divisions, it’ll be more competitive and anything can happen.

Like Milo, he sees it as a personnel challenge.

“We’ll have to manage the squad wisely. If we make mistakes it will give a chance to the opposition,” he notes.