VALLEY TIP FALCONS, KOWLOON CRACK TOP FOUR IN KPMG PREMIERSHIP

08 Dec 2018

Societe Generale Valley beat Gai Wu Falcons 29-17 in the KPMG Premiership Game of the Week. In other action, title threats Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers hammered Natixis HKFC Ice, 78-7, leap-frogging Gai Wu into second place on the table. Kerry Hotel Kowloon beat SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay 22-5 to book the fourth and final spot in the elite Premiership competition after the New Year, while Transact24 Tai Po Dragons beat Plastic Free City Sparkle 30-7.

Today’s action was the last of the calendar year, and the last as an eight-team tournament with a split into four-team Premiership A and B competitions in January. Kowloon’s win over City sees them claim the fourth and final spot in the elite Premiership in 2019, behind Valley, Tigers and Falcons.

While the Valley – Gai Wu result did not impact the final groupings for 2019 it was an important occasion for both sides as they prepare for another run at grand championship glory next Spring.  It was a typically tense battle between last year’s grand finalists with Valley staking out a 12-0 lead at half-time after a brace of tries from Zoe Smith in the opening ten minutes.

Looking as if they were shot out of a cannon to start the match, Valley created Smith’s opening scores from intercept passes as young Gai Wu fly-half Jasmine Fung struggled with the rush defence.

“They put us under a lot of pressure, especially in those first few minutes with the intercepts,” said Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang.

With swathes of Gai Wu’s Hong Kong talent unavailable in the first half of the season, Lai has used the early going to experiment with new players and positions, especially with his two fly-halves, recent U20s graduate Fung and Hong Kong sevens star Stephanie Chan, both of whom are in their first seasons with the club.  The two have interchanged at No.10 in the early stages of the campaign.

“Our results have been good enough to secure a spot in the top four, so we really wanted to experiment and test our positional experience and bench depth early on,” he said.

Lai will be hoping his strategy pays off in the long run, but today it showed cracks with Chan starting the match in the centres before swapping positions with Fung at half-time. Chan’s sevens experience helped plug the midfield holes against the insistent Valley attack, while a yellow card against Valley No.8 Tanya Dhar further helped take pressure off of the Falcons.

After half-time, Valley - and Smith - picked up right where they left off with Smith collecting her hat trick after just 44 minutes. Valley’s 19-0 lead was short-lived as Falcons flanker Yip Hiu-ki scored in the 47th minute, with Chan’s conversion cutting the margin to 19-7.  Winger Jessica Eden, capped for Hong Kong on the recent tour of Europe, increased Valley’s margin to 26-7 with a try in the 56th minute, which was converted by Bella Milo.

Tries for Falcons scrumhalf Sham Wai-sum and flanker Chau Man-huen cut the gap to 26-17 with 20 minutes remaining, but Gai Wu never threatened Valley’s try-line down the stretch. A final penalty from Milo gave Valley the 29-17 win.  

Losses to Valley and Tigers in the past three weeks have left Falcons with work to do if they hope to return to the Grand Championships in March admitted Lai.

“We have a lot of work to do in the second half of the year, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on o in terms of the league or grand championship, because we have so many new players in key positions.

“We’re missing some crucial experience in crucial positions; it will all come down to team cohesion and how we train in the second half of the year, hopefully, it will continue to come together,” Lai added.

Lai also believes that Tigers have made it a three-way race this season.

“In terms of a starting fifteen, Valley still has the advantage, but over 80 minutes and looking at bench depth, I think Tigers have the highest quality depth and may have the advantage,” said Lai.

That advantage was on show for all to see as Tigers recorded their sixth straight win - along with 14 tries - against Football Club, winning 78-7.  Sevens captain Natasha Olson-Thorne accounted for seven tries, helping pace the Tigers’ points explosion as they poured 44 and 34 points on the board in either half.  

Football Club full-back Elizabeth Musgrove continued her try a game rate in her first season in Hong Kong, accounting for the visitor’s only try in the 14th minute with fly-half Aileen Ryan adding the extras.

The most pivotal tie of the day was that between Causeway Bay and Kowloon as the two sides jockeyed for the fourth and final promotion spot on the league table.

Kowloon beat Phoenix 22-5 as Causeway Bay fell out of the upper echelon Premiership for a second straight season.

Kowloon coach Jonathan Ho was delighted with his side’s results from the opening half of the campaign, particularly given the uncertainty that surrounded Kowloon at the start of the year.

“We didn’t think we could even field at team this season because we lost so many players before the league started. We’ve only been able to play because of a large number of players from our NL2 team have played up for the Premiership side this season.

“They have really put a huge effort in this year, and I think those efforts have contributed to a strong bond at the club this season. That spirit is actually the reason I think we beat Causeway Bay, because it was really a very even game.

“I want to thank all of the NL2 players for their efforts and their contribution this season and the entire squad for staying with it this year,” added Ho, who noted that the result is also just reward for some of Kowloon’s stalwarts.

“Some of our Hong Kong players like Cindy Yuen and Amber Tsang have been playing with the club for nearly a decade now and this is really the first time they have seen this success,” he added.

Ho knows that things will only get tougher in the second half.

“To close the gap with the top three we’re going to have to focus and improve our defence. I don’t think we will have too much opportunity to attack in the second half of the season, so our defence is going to have to be spot on and we can build from that,” Ho said.

In the bottom of the table clash, Tai Po Dragons beat City Sparkle 30-7, with both sides routing alongside Causeway Bay and Hong Kong Football Club to the minor Premiership competition in early 2019.


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