WOMEN’S LEAGUES COME DOWN TO WIRE IN KPMG GRAND FINALS

07 Feb 2020

This weekend’s KPMG Grand Championships pit Societe Generale Valley and Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers in the elite Top 4 finale, while Kerry Hotel Kowloon face SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay in the Premiership A Grand Final at King’s Park on Saturday (kick off at 15.00).

The storylines are set as Valley look to stop a run of losses in the final match of the year that dates back to 2018, while Tigers will be out to repeat their upset win in last year’s Grand Final, a victory that heralded the club’s arrival as the new challenger to Valley in Hong Kong women’s rugby.

That Valley remain the premier outfit in Hong Kong is without dispute after another clean sheet season with 13 wins in a row, including three hefty wins over Tigers in this year’s meetings.

For Tigers coach Fan Shun-kei that just means the pressure is off of his squad, who have battled through a difficult season on the injury front to win crucial games when they counted and return to this year’s showcase. In striking distance of a repeat, Fan knows it can happen again if his team gives a supreme effort over 80 minutes.

“Of course we want to defend our grand championship title, but the most important thing is we perform to our best on Saturday. We don’t have any pressure on our shoulders, as this is a one-off. The team are happy to reach a second final in as many seasons and if we win it will be a huge bonus for the club.”

That bonus would be well deserved for Fan after the up and down season at Tigers, “our team culture was extremely good this season. We have a lot of new players from other clubs and divisions and they really worked hard to gel-in. One consistent thing that all of the players old and new shared was that they all want to play better rugby and improve every session,” he added.

With that focus it is understandable why Tigers reached a second straight Grand Final. The question remains whether they can produce the effort required to overturn Valley once again. The challenge is immense with Valley well aware of the Tigers’ threat and focused on preventing a repeat of last year.

For Valley player-coach Bella Milo, the squad needs to go back to the well one last time: “The key for us this weekend is trust. Trust in our game plan and trust in each other out there like we have all year.” 

She is confident her team is up to the test: “We named our squad on Tuesday, which wasn’t easy. We had a full group to pick from and some key players had to miss out. They are disappointed but had time to adjust and came back to contribute to some really competitive training sessions this week.”

For Milo, that depth has been vital to another hugely successful season, and would not have been possible without a club-wide effort.

“Everyone has been key, but I would like to recognise the players from our seconds team, Valley Reds, for pushing for selections week in and week out.”

In the KPMG minor Grand Championships, Kowloon and Causeway Bay Phoenix set-up a rematch of the league finale, as both sides look to cap rebuilding seasons with final silverware.

Kowloon have the most to gain after losing the league to Phoenix 14-5 on the last meeting of the season. Coach Terry Sibanda is pleased with his side’s progress this season, if not their final position. “At the start our target was to make the Top 4, and stay in the premiership. We knew it would be tough and that given the mix of new, young and experienced players in the squad it would take time to gel.

“We did not reach the top four but we secured our spot in the premiership and blooded ten 17 year olds to senior rugby along with eight players new to the game from the summer elementary course with three making cameos in our prem squad this season.”

The emergence of potential new stars and a growing club culture are the biggest outcomes of the season. “The culture has evolved between young and senior players. They bonded to become a family on and off the pitch and pushed each other to create a healthy competitive environment.”

Sibanda knows that they will need to tap that unity to turn over Causeway Bay and take home something from the final 80 minutes of the year.

“Causeway Bay have a good, hard-working forward pack; they’re disciplined and experienced and physical. Their handling is great and they know how to keep possession. We need a strong and disciplined defensive line to put them under pressure and force errors. If we can keep possession and expose defensive gaps we give ourselves a good chance for the win. The key is just to play to our strengths and play our game.”

In light of the coronavirus, the grand finals will be played as a closed-door event at Kings Park. All matches will be live streamed via the HKRU’s Facebook page.   

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