Valley Black take on the USRC Tigers as first plays third in the Women’s Premiership Game of the Week at Happy Valley, kick-off is at 6pm. The Tigers have made big strides this season as they look to close the gap on the league’s front-runners but will have to be at the top of their game having lost the reverse fixture 32-3 earlier in the season.
Tigers Coach Liu Kwok-leung noted that his side could still be a bit rusty as their 61-10 win over Kowloon last weekend was their first competitive match since November – and despite the lengthy lay-off, the Tigers are struggling with injuries.
“We’ll probably bring some players up for the game against Valley, which will make getting the result that much harder, but it will give a chance for the younger players to get more experience,” said Liu.
“Valley is a tough game, but we’ll do our best. We’ve been preparing hard, and we know them much better now than when we met earlier this season. We’ve been working a lot on our defence, as if you can’t defend against Valley, you have no chance to attack,” added Liu.
Liu is also encouraged by the rapid development of some young players in the Tigers set-up: “We’ve got a few U18 girls coming through, which is really exciting. Hebe Talas will start this week on the wing. She’s a quality athlete and will be a major player for us in the future.”
Talas, and forward Maelle Picut who will start on the bench, were part of the U18s girls sevens side that won Hong Kong’s first Asian U18s Girls Sevens Championship last December, scoring a try in the final, a 12-5 win over Kazakhstan. “I’m really looking forward to see how these girls go,” said Liu
The Tigers’ U18s could find themselves facing their Hong Kong team-mates Kelsie Bouttle and Clare Coey who have both been getting Premiership match time with Valley this season.
“We can’t lose focus as we can’t afford any mistakes against Valley. They have a lot of national team players. We can learn a lot from playing them, but we don’t have any pressure. We can just tell the players to go out and enjoy it and that’s when we perform best,” said Liu who is satisfied with the Tigers’ position in the table: “We don’t feel any pressure to move up the table. We can continue to focus on our performance, as we’re confident we can keep ahead of the clubs below us. Our game isn’t yet at the level to consistently match Valley and Gai Wu so we need more experience, which is why this weekend is important.”
“Our target is the Grand Championships. We have set a goal to reach the final and beat whoever we face there,” Liu added.
With an undefeated run that is now in it’s third straight season, Liu can expect that opponent to be Valley, who also have their eyes on the same prize.
“We’re keeping an eye on the Grand Championships now and working on the expectation that we’ll play Gai Wu again, but this is rugby and anything could happen,” Valley Black coach Elliot said.
“Tigers are a good side. They know what they’re doing so it’s always a tough game. Our girls really want this win, but we’re also mindful that the schedule is going to get a lot tougher in the coming weeks. Our challenge now is to play some of our make-up games while managing player availability and fitness and, of course, not picking up too many injuries.”
“We need to get through this tough game on Saturday, and then we play Football Club next Thursday, which will be the first time we’ve met this season. We play them again the following week, giving us two matches against them in nine days, which can be tricky.”
Elliot has reshuffled his forward pack in the hunt for some new combinations for the remainder of the season and that could offer an opportunity for Tigers.
“It will be a baptism of fire for our forwards against the strong Tigers pack,” Elliot concluded.
In the other matches this weekend Gai Wu Falcons will face fourth-ranked HKFC Ice, while sixth-ranked Kowloon looks for its second win of the season against fifth-placed Causeway Bay Phoenix.
Additional reporting and photos: HK Rugby, Panadaman