HKFC coach David Wigley believes his side are on target to advance to a semi-finals match-up against unbeaten league champions Valley Black.
“At the start of the season our target was to secure fourth place in the league again, and we’re extremely pleased to have achieved that. We’ve been improving through the season, and the last two weeks have seen our systems really coming into place,” said Wigley.
HKFC Ice were a model of consistency in keeping their stranglehold on fourth place this season, but Causeway Bay came on strong in the second half to close the gap on their nearest rivals ahead of the final league match against City Sparkle. The Phoenix’s effort came agonisingly short as they couldn’t secure the bonus point win that would have leap-frogged them over Football Club in the standings.
“In our last game, against City, we really wanted the four tries [the bonus point] but they put up a good show, with a strong defence, and we were only able to score twice,” said Phoenix coach Ocean Chow.
The win saw Causeway Bay finish with a better win-loss record for the league campaign but Football Club, who dropped from a 4-2 record in January to finish at 5-7, had four bonus point wins and claimed fourth on points differential, 24 points against Causeway Bay’s 23.
The two sides split their meetings this season with HKFC securing a 22-14 win in October while Causeway Bay edged Club 12-5 last month.
Wigley believes that things are falling into place just in time for the big push. “Every time we play Causeway Bay it’s fiercely competitive. The two teams are evenly matched, but the squad is in good shape and we will be able to field as strong a squad as we’ve had all season.”
Adding to the toss-up, the match will be contested on neutral ground with the sides playing at Aberdeen.
“We haven’t played at Aberdeen for two years so it will be interesting to play on grass. The bounce of the ball is different, and it may come down to which team settles best on the surface. Against Causeway Bay, we give it our all. It is like a local derby for us. We met them last year at this stage and came through in what was ultimately a game of attrition,” said Wigley.
Both coaches agree that there isn’t much between the challengers. “With both sets of forwards going at it hard, this game is usually won or lost in the backs,” said Wigley.
Chow concurred saying, “Football club have strong forwards and a dangerous maul, but I think our backline gives us the advantage. Quick rucking is one of our strengths and we’ve been training for contact attack, which is necessary in a physical game like this. We need to play to our strengths with quick ball and offload.”
Wigley is preparing his team for a similar test: “The threat from their scrum is always tough. If we can neutralize that, we can work to our own strengths. We’ve been working hard on our defence at the ruck and breakdown. We also need to shut down their wingers, who gave us problems last year.”
With excitement mounting ahead of the must-win tie, Ocean Chow believes that the deciding factor may come down to mental more than rugby skills.
“It’s a matter of keeping focus. The mindset is crucial. It’s all about that desire. Saturday will be exciting. It will be close-fought, but we will win,” Chow predicted, as he hopes his Phoenix will be able to rise to the occasion.
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Additional reporting, photo: HK Rugby