This weekends action in the Women’s Premiership sees Gai Wu Falcons take on City Sparkle at Shek Kip Mei, while CWB Phoenix host HKFC Ice at So Kon Po and USRC Tigers face Kowloon Ladies at Kings Park, All games kick off at 18.00.
HKFC Ice survived a tough encounter against Kowloon last week with a last-minute try securing a 22-17 win and will hope to continue their perfect start to the season against CWB Phoenix. After suffering a rash of injuries last week, the going could prove slippery for Ice. The Sports Road outfit suffered six injuries in the match last week with four players remaining out from the starting fifteen for this Saturday’s match, pushing them to call up players from National League level.
“We have a few girls who can step up from the second team, which is also part of our long-term plan. They are capable players but haven’t yet played at this level,” said HKFC coach David Wigley. “CWB Phoenix had a tough game against the Tigers last week and we won’t take them lightly at all, but we are confident. We’ve played them a number of times last season and they were all tough matches, but we came through and won them all.”
“They have a tough pack and are really good on the ground; they slow the ball down well,” added Wigley. “Our game plan revolves around quicker ball, so the contest at the breakdown will be vital. We are going to have to up our game, especially at the breakdown, where we lacked a bit last week.”
Causeway Bay coach Ocean Chow will be hoping to wipe the slate clean against HKFC and is targeting this match as his side’s potential first win of the season after having faced the most challenging schedule in the early rounds of the Premiership.
“We are ready for Football Club and believe this game can be our first win this season. The players know they played well last time, we had a good performance, and we have the ability. They feel confident.”
Chow wants to see his team get the ball wide this weekend. “Our plan is to involve the backline more, particularly in the first half. That is the strength of the side and if we can use them in the first half we can conserve some energy for the second half, when we can bring our forwards more into the play.”
Most importantly for Chow, who bemoaned his side’s lack of mental preparation for last week’s game, is that the self-belief has returned to the squad: “The players believe they can win, which is crucial – we have to have that belief. They can feel our potential and now we want to realize it.”
Causeway Bay are aware that Football Club boasts some difference makers, both up front and deep, with Hong Kong stars Royce Chan Leong-sze and Rose Fong Siu-lan anchoring the pack and backs respectively.
“Rose and Royce are key for them. Rose always controls play very well, while Royce adds strength to an already considerable forward pack. This is why we want to make sure we get width on our attack, to move their forwards around a bit,” said Chow.
A consistently improving Kowloon will look to sneak up on Tigers this weekend after turning in a buoyant showing against Football Club.
Tigers Coach Liu Kwok-leung will rely on the return of his sevens players from international duty to ensure there are no slip-ups for his talented side after last week’s heavy loss to Falcons.
“Kowloon are much improved – I saw them play last week – everyone is confident, aggressive and as a team they are getting much better. They have mostly new players, who are not so experienced but have done a lot to strengthen their skills and mindset. I see them running hard, playing confidently and knowing what to do in the second and third phases. They are much improved on last season.”
“The good news is that our sevens players are back, and our bench is looking strong.” added Leung. “I feel confident about our prospects this season. We’ve finished in the top three for the past two seasons and aim to move up this time. We always want to be at the top.”
“After coming through last week, despite some lapses, we know we need to keep our momentum going. In the past we haven’t always kept stable through the whole 80 minutes. Too often we give away chances, so everyone understands that we need to keep possession and keep the intensity high for the whole game,” said Liu.
That intensity promises to be matched by Kowloon after an inspiring performance last week versus Football Club.
“Everyone has renewed confidence after last week,” said Kowloon coach Jonathan Ho. “Our performance will definitely be stepping up a notch this weekend.”
Ho feels that the standings don’t flatter his opponents. “It’s true that Tigers are just slightly ahead of us on the table but they are a well developed and mature team. They are closer to Valley and Gai Wu than the rest of us.”
Ho has reinforced the team’s preparation in the set piece this week in training. “We have worked a lot on our lineout as it is an area where, with more confidence, we feel we can perform much better than we have been doing. Tigers strength is their backline, which I think is as good as the top two teams (Valley and Gai Wu).”
Ho’s estimation is confirmed by the fact that Tigers have three backs who are mainstays in the Hong Kong Women’s sevens squad including the hard-tackling Natasha Olson-Thorne, Lindsay Varty and Nam Ka Man who looked in outstanding form for Hong Kong in Sri Lanka.
Ho understands that with Tigers strength in the backs, possession will be a key for his team: “We need to get the ball in our hands and keep it. When they attack we have to make contact early, try to secure a turnover and work to turn defence into attack. We need to make something of every situation.”
Most importantly, Ho will look to his charges to build on last week’s efforts. “Last week’s game was definitely a turning point for us. Since last week, the whole mood in our camp has changed for the better. It’s just a matter of believing that we can do it.” That belief will be put to the test on Saturday.
It will likely be one-way traffic at Shek Kip Mei as the Gai Wu Falcons take on the debutant Sparkle. Gai Wu fans will be hoping the Falcons can maintain their defensive clean sheet, they have yet to concede a single point to their opponents this season, turning in convincing results over Kowloon (56-0) and Causeway Bay (31-0).
Additional reporting: HKRU
Image: Phoebe Leung