This weekend’s Women’s Premiership features clashes between the league’s four remaining unbeaten sides. The title contenders will meet for the first time this season when USRC Tigers host Valley Black at Kings Park (3pm) and Gai Wu Falcons travel to Sports Road to play HKFC Ice in Saturday’s second tie between unbeaten sides at 6pm.
Valley Black have extended their historic two-year unbeaten streak into a third season, scoring 154 points in their three matches to date; third-ranked Tigers have posted a similarly impressive 126 points over their three victories this season.
The Tigers, who finished second in the league last year before being edged out of the Grand Championship stakes, have clear ambitions to figure in the top two this time around, but will be tested heavily on Saturday.
The scrutiny will go both ways as Valley are under no illusions as to what they can expect, with coach James Elliott calling Saturday’s match a “tough exam.” “None of the games are going to be easy, especially against Tigers, Football Club or, of course, Gai Wu. It is still just the start of the season so we need to be ready for anything.”
Despite facing their first real threat of the season, it’s business as usual according to Elliott.
“Our preparation has been nothing special, we have done some contact work and kept up on our fitness. We’re missing a couple of players, so there will be a bit of a reshuffle, particularly in the pack, but we have no major injuries.”
Spectators should be in for some exciting running rugby as two of the league’s premier backlines enter Saturday’s match. The Valley backline features a number of Hong Kong Sevens squad members and nearly the entire group was invited to trial for the National XVs earlier this week.
“Our backline performance will be hugely important. Tigers also have a great backline, and that is where the competition will be – I’m expecting an open, running game. It will be a fast game, which is fine for us, fine for both teams actually,” Elliott added.
Valley’s already imposing backline will be bolstered by the addition of sevens squad mainstay Colleen Tjosvold as she gets her first fifteens action of the season after being on international duty for Hong Kong early in the season. Tjosvold will join her sevens teammates Adrienne Garvey and Amelie Seure in the squad.
Valley captain Olivia Coady is excited about the challenge ahead; “We watched Tigers play last week [a 49-0 win over Kowloon]. They looked really strong. There has been some good competition already this season, but this weekend will be our biggest test so far.
“I’m also expecting a fast, running game, perhaps even a high scoring one. We don’t care about necessarily winning big, just winning,” Coady added.
Tigers coach Liu Kwok-leung agrees that the Premiership is about to get much more challenging for his team. “It’s the time to test the players in the field. Valley is a top team and I expect to learn a lot about our players, and about Valley, tomorrow. And they will learn a lot too. Every season when we play them, it exposes something, and I hope it will be positive for us tomorrow.”
National team players Natasha Olson-Thorne, Nam Ka-man and Lindsay Varty are all back from duty and are set to start for Tigers, and with only a couple of injuries to disturb his selection options, Liu expects a tight match saying, “It will be really close but we don’t feel too much pressure.”
Having earlier in the season expressed concern over his charges’ ability to maintain focus for the full 80 minutes, Liu believes there is enough in his team to give champions Valley a real fight.
“We’ve done a lot of work on our defence and our players have grown a lot since last season. We will focus on our defensive patterns, and if we can maintain them and convert defence into attack smoothly, it’ll be a really exciting game that brings out the best in both teams.”
Gai Wu will take their perfect record to meet fellow unbeatens HK Football Club. On current form they should have the upper hand, however, their hopes to add a league-leading fourth consecutive shutout could be in jeopardy against a battling Football Club outfit.