Grand Final Preview: Valley Black v Gai Wu Falcons

The two clubs have dominated women’s rugby in recent seasons, Valley Black and Gai Wu Falcons, will face off in their fourth successive Grand Championship Final at King’s Park (4.30pm). The last seven Grand Finals have seen at least one of the two taking part, with Valley claiming five titles to Gai Wu’s two over that period.

Both clubs have been instrumental in the vast improvement in the skill level and quality of local women’s rugby in recent years and games between the two are tight and fiercely competitive. Valley won the 2016-17 league title with an 8-7 win over Gai Wu on the final weekend – extending their unbeaten run to 40 matches. While last year’s Grand Final was also won by Valley 12-10 with a last-gasp try from ex-New Zealand international Olivia Coady.

In addition to Coady, Saturday’s Grand Final will feature ex-Samoan captain Bella Milo, returning to fitness for Valley, and potentially as many as 20 Hong Kong internationals on the park. “Having so many internationals on the pitch supports the development of women’s rugby in Hong Kong,” said Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang.

After last year’s thriller Lai is again looking forward to putting on a Grand Final for the fans:“It’s going to show off high performance women’s rugby. We need tight games like this. Winning 70-nil or 50-nil, doesn’t help us develop as players or as a team, so I’m looking forward to a close game.”

While a positive for the Hong Kong team, the high number of international players can make life difficult for the coaches. “The players on both teams know each other from national duties. They know each other’s style and strengths,” said Valley coach James Elliot.

“It may be that the side that tries something unexpected on Saturday could make the difference,” Elliot added, while refusing to be drawn on what tricks he may have up his sleeve.

Valley will have its strongest team available with Coady returning to the captaincy after being rested last weekend. The back row of Coady, No.8 Amelie Seure and Toto Cheng has proven devastating this season. “Our regular force is ready – Bella, Olivia, Frenchie [Seure] and Colleen Tjosvold and Adrienne Garvey in the backs are all available,” Elliot said.

The Falcons will be without some key players: Aggie Poon Pak-yan – who fractured a rib in the build-up to this year’s semi-final – scored all of Gai Wu’s points in last year’s Grand Final. While Melody Li Nim-yam is still out after picking up an injury on the sevens team’s tour to New Zealand.

“We just prepare as best we can,” said the placid Lai. “It was our target to return to this match at the beginning of the year and now we’re here. I’m quite optimistic and the team are really looking forward to it,” said Lai.

“This is what Grand Finals are all about, each side giving their all to be the one standing at the end. It’s always about playing 80 minutes, but in a Grand Final, that’s even more true – as we found out last year.”

Prop Cherry Wu, in her first season with Gai Wu, is also out with a dislocated shoulder putting added pressure on the pack to step-up. That battle up front is likely to determine the outcome. Gai Wu have an edge in the tight five, while Valley boasts the most dangerous back row in the league. “We’re looking for quality ball from the pack, especially in the set piece, to create opportunities,” said Lai.

Elliot is confident Valley can snuff out those opportunities:“I expect them to use their forwards quite a bit. But our structures are good, and our defence is strong, especially on the line. We’ve got real strength around the ruck. Our forwards love contact and our backs like to run, so I think it will be a high-intensity match,” he said.

While Gai Wu was lifted by their last battle with Valley, Elliot discounted its impact on the final, saying, “That was a different scenario. We had to be conscious of things like points differential, while Gai Wu was going all-out for tries with the league title on the line.

“They will probably take penalty shots if they’re on offer – and so will we, as both teams have good kickers. In this game, you shouldn’t come away from opportunities without points,” said Elliot. “This time it’s much simpler for both clubs – win at all costs.”

Additional reporting: HK Rugby
Photos: Gozar Images

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