10 12月 2015

Undefeated Societe Generale Valley have a commanding lead on the league table entering Round 9 of the Hong Kong Rugby Union Premiership. Valley will put their perfect 8-0 record on the line this weekend against third-ranked Natixis Hong Kong Football Club at Happy Valley (HV8) on Saturday at 15.00.

Round 9 action kicks off with a Friday evening encounter as Sabre Kowloon host Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish at 8.00pm at King’s Park (11 Dec.). Saturday’s late Premiership match sees Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers host Leighton Asia Hong Kong Cricket Club at King’s Park at 16.30.

With Scottish hit by a number of injuries and the loss of some key playmakers due to visa issues, Tigers and Football Club remain the leading contenders to close the gap on Valley. At the mid-point of the season, Valley tops the league table with 35 points. Tigers are the nearest threat on 20 points with a five-win, three-loss record. HKFC is in third place on 18 points, followed by Scottish on 16. HKCC and Kowloon bring up the rear with 12 and 6 points respectively.

Valley are the only side in an otherwise even Premiership with a positive points differential (+119). Despite being ranked fifth overall, HKCC are the nearest to breaking even at -7 (indicating the umber of close-run affairs the club has been involved in this season among their five losses to date). Tigers, HKFC and Scottish are at -15, -17 and -30 points respectively.

With the season on hiatus after this weekend’s action, (resuming again on 9 January), Saturday marks the last opportunity in 2015 to mar Valley’s perfect streak. Fittingly, that task will fall to historic rivals Hong Kong Football Club. With Valley defending its home turf against neighbours HKFC, the Broony Quaich will also be on the line for a second successive weekend.

Football Club coach Phil Bailey is aware of the challenges ahead saying, “Valley are clearly the best team in the league. They are a quality side, with a lot of star players and a lot of internationals. We’re going to need to put on our best show to have a shot at them.

“We've got to be better than last week, that’s for sure.” Bailey added, referencing last week’s loss to Tigers which saw the Kowloon side leapfrog Club to take control of second place in the standings.

“We need to do the little things well. Keep the ball and not put ourselves under pressure, like we did last week against Tigers. We uncharacteristically took our foot off the pedal and they took advantage of that,” added Bailey.

Football Club will have a tough task against the runaway league leaders, particularly with some influential forwards sidelined due to injury including Adam Butterfield and Dan Falvey, both of whom were recently capped for Hong Kong in the Cup of Nations series.The injuries in the pack were exacerbated by new front row signing Andrew Tiedemann’s return to Canada two weeks ago, which combined will create an opportunity for Valley’s impressive eight to maintain its dominance in the set piece this season.

But Bailey isn’t conceding any advantage to the opposition saying, “Obviously Andrew’s early departure was a big loss to us. He was one of our top players and we don’t have a response to that at the moment so we’re just buckling down and pressing on. We feel it will be a pretty tight contest between the forwards this week.”

Football Club will have to keep an eye on the peloton as well with the runners-up spots behind Valley changing hands on a weekly basis. “Overall, we’ve done a good job to stay in the middle of the table. We’re in third place and there is still plenty of rugby to be played after Christmas,” Bailey noted.

Craig Stewart, head coach of Tigers, also has his side thoroughly in the mix as they prepare to face off against a wounded HKCC on Saturday.

“Cricket Club have a lot of good players and are probably favourites this weekend. Last time we played they were injury-depleted and we caught them at an opportune moment,” Stewart added.

With Cricket Club losing first choice fly-half Angus Cameron for the season since the two sides last played, they will still be injury-depleted, but are at least entering this weekend’s game with more rest after their tie with Kowloon was rained out last weekend.

Tigers meanwhile are having to carefully manage their own resources as the grind of week in, week out rugby takes its toll on all the clubs ahead of the break.

“We’re also suffering from injuries and we lost two more players last week. That brings us to six or seven guys out at the moment. But it was important that we got that win over Football Club last week. We did well to show some fight and come back from behind, but I’d like us to get rid of this habit we have of starting slowly.

“In any case, we came back for the win and now it’s important that we maintain that momentum we built in the second half of the season. To do that we need to establish a bit more consistency in the team and in our selections,” said Stewart.

Tigers will look to maintain their position ahead of the Christmas break but it is the long-term objectives that have the club’s fortunes changing this season.

“Hopefully the break will give everyone a chance to recover and we can get back to full strength going into the New Year. But our goals are longer-term. We’re looking to build for the future. For this season, if we finish in the top two or even the top four at the end, we'll be happy,” Stewart said.

That would be an impressive mark for the side that before the start of this year had failed to win a domestic Premiership match in the preceding two seasons. Tigers’ momentum will be tested on Saturday against what will be a wounded HKCC side as last year’s league champions enter the match in an uncharacteristic fifth place on the table after only two wins on the season.

Friday night’s game will see Kowloon host Scottish at King’s Park with a chance to get a second win as the two clubs fortunes’ may be changing. After a slow start to the season Kowloon collected its first win over Tigers to close out November on a high. Now they will meet Scottish whose position on the table is sliding after suffering a series of injuries and losing two key players due to visa issues.

Scottish coach Craig Hammond is aware of the realities of the situation.“We've got quite a few injuries at the moment and we lost our fly-half and second row as their visas were rejected, but it is what it is.

We need to get a win before we go away for Christmas and then touch wood we can get a few guys back after the break.

“We are missing some of the massive parts of our team but if we can just stay mid-table and have a good run after Christmas we’re in with a shout. It’s a tough old task but we are just going to have to dig deep,” Hammond added.