Grand Championship Preview: HKFC Ice v CWB Phoenix

After achieving a top-four league finish for the second season running HKFC Ice will take on CWB Phoenix in the quarterfinals of the Premiership Grand Championships.

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.

Gai Wu Falcons and USRC Tigers will advance to the semi-finals stages, along with Valley, after City and Kowloon forfeited their matches against the second- and third-ranked league finishers.

For all this weekends fixtures click here

Additional reporting, photo: HK Rugby

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Women’s Rugby Quarter Final Fixtures – 25 February, 2017

Rugby photo: Gozar Images

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Women’s Rugby Results – 18 February, 2017

Premiership

Valley Black 8-7 Gai Wu Falcons
@ Happy Valley, Kick-off: 16:30

CWB Phoenix 10-0 City Sparkle
@ So Kon Po, Kick-off: 18:00

HKFC Ice 12-52 USRC Tigers
@ HK Football Club, Kick-off: 18:00

National League 1

Valley Red 7-22 Gai Wu Fawkes
@ Happy Valley, Kick-off: 13:30

Tai Po Dragons v USRC Tigers
@ King’s Park, Kick-off: 15:00

HKCC 5-38 Revolution SRC
@ King’s Park, Kick-off: 18:00

National League 2

City 5-5 Tin Shui Wai
@ Tin Shui Wai, Kick-off: 13:30

HKFC Fire 0-68 CWB Lammergeier
@ HK Football Club, Kick-off: 16:30

Uni-Pirates v Kowloon
@ Sandy Bay, Kick-off: 16:30

Police Sirens 29-27 Gai Wu Hawkes
­@ Police Boundary Street, Kick-off: 18:00

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Valley Black Clinch Premiership Title With 8-7 Win Over Gai Wu Falcons

Valley Black survived a scare from Gai Wu Falcons as they ran their undefeated streak to three league seasons – and 39 games – with an 8-7 win to clinch the Women’s Premiership title.

Another hard-fought encounter between Valley and Gai Wu was a fitting end to the league season, as both sides entered the afternoon with legitimate claims on the title.

For eighty minutes, the local titans of the women’s game played each other to a standstill defensively, allowing just one try in either half.

“It was a really tough game,” said Valley coach James Elliot. “Gai Wu clearly wanted to win the league. It was obvious when they turned down four or five opportunities to take penalty shots at goal, preferring to go for the try.”

With Valley only having to avoid conceding a bonus point loss to Gai Wu to win the league – and having one of the league’s top goal kickers in Zoe Smith, Elliot was happy to take the conservative approach as he sent his fullback out to slot an opening penalty for the 3-0 lead.

Falcons replied before the half with a quick tap and run try that was converted by Lee Tsz-ting, putting Valley in the unfamiliar position of trailing at halftime, 7-3.

With the game deadlocked in the second half, Valley flanker Olivia Coady stepped to the fore, scoring the game-winning try from 20 metres out in the 50th minute, brushing off five tacklers to barge over in the right corner.

“Olivia was immense,” enthused Elliot, “There are no words to describe her effort; she was invaluable; she was everywhere. I think she forced more than 15 turnovers, which is a good number for an entire team in a game.”

Falcons threw everything they could into the last 20 minutes, and were given an excellent opportunity when Rachel Wong was sin-binned. They camped out on the Valley try-line for the entirety of the final quarter, but an immense defensive effort from Valley held them off the board as time expired.

“Gai Wu worked really hard. We didn’t have as much ball or as many opportunities. They could have won the game if they’d taken a different strategy,” said Elliot. The girls were happy to win the game and win the league but it wasn’t just about the ladies today. It was fantastic day of rugby at the Valley ground, with a great turnout and a great atmosphere.”

Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang hailed his side’s spirited performance, especially after they improved on a 28-3 loss to the champions in November.

“Our performance improved a lot since we played earlier this season. We were understrength today, with key players out injured and a lot of inexperienced players on the pitch, but they all pulled together.

“Compared to the last match against Valley, we did much better, especially at the breakdown. We managed that part of the game very well,” said Lai.

Despite the loss, and conceding the League title to Valley, Lai knows that today’s performance will benefit his side.

“We took a lot of confidence out of that performance. Hopefully we can build off that momentum. We have a few weeks now to get some of our key players back fit, so ideally we can be stronger and make it back to the final,” added Lai.

In other Premiership action, USRC Tigers beat HKFC Ice 52-13, while CWB Phoenix held off City Sparkle 12-0.

The weekend’s results earn Valley a first round bye in the Grand Championships. Gai Wu will play bottom-ranked City in the opening stages, while third placed Tigers will play Kowloon, who were on bye today but finished in fifth on the table. Fourth placed HKFC Ice will face fifth placed Causeway Bay in the mid-table clash in round one.

For all the weekends results see here

Additional reporting: HKrugby

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Hong Kong v The Netherlands ODI @ Tin Kwong Road – 18 February, 2017

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Perfect weather and a noisy partisan crowd were not enough to prevent Hong Kong losing the second ODI to The Netherlands at Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground on the 18 February. Read the match report here.
Click on any photo for the full gallery of images.

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Hong Kong Fall Short Again…

For the third time in a week Hong Kong and the Netherlands laid on a thrilling game but unfortunately for the partisan crowd at the Tin Kwong Road Recreation Ground it was the visitors who triumphed again.

It was another high scoring affair, the Netherlands posted 314-9, with the heroics of Anshuman Rath and Babar Hayat again not enough for Hong Kong as they fell short by 13 runs in a match they should have won.

In the four day game, Hong Kong dominated but didn’t have the mental fortitude and the game smarts to win the match and were forced to settle for a draw. The same applied in both ODI games, although chasing 300+ totals in both matches, Hong Kong laid the foundations to win but failed to finish the job. Credit to The Netherlands who stuck to their task, but Hong Kong should have had a clean sweep. The players need to learn how to win.

Netherlands opener Michael Rippon (53 off 78) and Ben Cooper (78 off 72) gave Netherlands a solid base, getting the Dutch to 97-1 in 20 overs.

Again it was a team effort from the Netherlands with the bat, with six players scoring over 20. Captain Peter Borren (49 off 43) and Pieter Seelaar (31 off 23) provided the impetus at the end of the innings.

The Netherlands threatened to make a higher target but were restricted in the final overs on a wicket just starting to lose some of its pace.

In response it was the familiar faces of Anshuman Rath and Babar Hayat who again dominated for Hong Kong. They took Hong Kong to 144-1 after 29 overs when Rath was stumped off the bowling of Rippon who backed up his half-century with two wickets in a man-of-the-match display.

For Rath, at just 19 the future is bright. He is now the leading run scorer in the World Cricket League after scores of 134 and 85 in the series. Nizakat Khan lifted the rate and blasted 41 off 26 balls to leave Hong Kong requiring 103 off 78 balls with 8 wickets still in tact.

But as in the first match, the Netherlands bowled with clever plans and good execution in the final overs. The home side couldn’t find the boundary enough and when Hayat was dismissed for 86 off 80 balls, the match was as good as done.

“There are a lot positives for us, there is a lot of talent in the dressing room and we are not far away,” Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat said. “We should have won one of these games at least and done better, so the players are just disappointed. It’s hard to take being so close in both games and not getting a win.”

Netherlands captain Peter Borren was understandably delighted with his side taking both games in the series. “A really good team performance from us. 315, we were pretty happy with that at half time on a wicket getting a little bit tired.”

“You have to give credit again to Anshuman and Babar who have batted for the last 9-10 days where we have chased a lot of balls, they deserve better than what they have got here but we are delighted to have the points from these games.”

“We can be very proud with how we have done in the last week or so against a very good Hong Kong team, they have been fantastic hosts.”

The Hong Kong squad will now break off into their Hong Kong T20 Blitz squads with that tournament to be held on March 8-12.

Additional reporting: HK Cricket
Photo: Panda Man

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Womens Premiership Preview – 18 February, 2017

The Women’s Premiership comes to a close with a climactic battle between the top two sides, Valley Black and Gai Wu Falcons, at Happy Valley (16.30).

Valley will be looking to conclude a third straight unbeaten season with a win over Gai Wu and stretch their record to 39 straight league wins over three seasons, including Grand Championship play.

Despite Valley’s historic run, Gai Wu still has a mathematical chance at capturing league honours for the first time since 2013. A bonus point win for the Falcons (while keeping Valley out of the bonus) would hand them the league title on points differential.

Valley is currently top of the table with 54 points. Gai Wu’s only loss this year came against Valley (28-3 in November) leaving them on 10 wins (49 points) and with the better points differential (+29).

Valley coach James Elliot accepts the possibility of losing the league on points, but stresses that two forfeitures this season account for the points differential.

“We have had two forfeits awarded, [league rules allow for 20-0 wins in case of forfeiture], against Football Club and Causeway Bay. We would have expected to post more than 20 points in those games but we are at a deficit now in terms of the differentials,” Elliot acknowledged.

Elliot knows that the easiest solution is a win and he insists his side is well grounded ahead of Saturday’s clash, saying, “Our focus is to win the game and win the league. We’re going to go out and play Valley rugby and win. This is something that we were very clear about in training this week.

“It’s going to be a terrific game. Last time we played them, it was 3-0 at half-time, a big battle. Gai Wu have got great attacking weapons, with more national squad players than any other club,” Elliot added.

Valley are a close second in the number of current and former internationals suiting up with nine Hong Kong and other internationals in the squad for Saturday.

“This will be the toughest match of the season. We’re up for it and I’m sure Gai Wu are too. It’ll be big. It’ll be intense,” Elliot promised. “It will be a really big day for Women’s rugby. It’s great for women’s rugby to have good, competitive games like this,” he added.

Elliot is expecting the battle to again be intense and is looking to his capable back row to offer the edge. “As usual, there will be a lot of action up front, but we both have very good back lines. Both teams have players that can steal the ball. For us, Olivia Coady, Amelie Seure and Toto Cheng will be key. Toto is everywhere on the field and packs a lot of firepower in her small frame,” said Elliot.

Injuries to two of the Falcons’ sevens stars, Aggie Poon Pak-yan and Melody Li Nim-yan, will make Gai Wu’s task that much harder. Angela Chan Ka-yan is also unavailable due to work commitments while Hong Kong front rower Tammy Lau Sze-wah, a lynchpin of the club’s impressive forward pack, is also under injury cloud but is expected to play. Despite the hits to his numbers, Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang is confident in his side’s abilities.

“We’ve got a real chance to win, the target is quite clear. We have to play with 100 percent confidence. We have to play what we train and focus on what we can do, not on the players who are not available.”

Success rides on fundamentals and a fast start for Lai. “If we can get the fundamentals right, we will have a platform to build on. The key is to keep our defence strong and build our attack from there. Valley are strong across the pitch, so we have to be at our best.

“I think whoever gets into the game faster will have the momentum to secure the result. It’s all about getting into the game early on.” Lai, who has been focusing on balancing his attack this season, believes the pieces are coming together in time for another Grand Championship push.

“We’ve got a pretty big forward pack, with quite a few national team players, who bring a lot of experience and energy to our play in that part of the field. In the past, we built our play primarily around our forwards, but this season, we’ve got our wings involved more and are more balanced,” added Lai.

This time last year, Gai Wu were in third place in the league before meeting Valley in the final week of the season, a heavy loss where Valley’s Coady scored five tries. But Gai Wu nearly turned the tables on Valley in a hugely entertaining grand final that came down to the final seconds.

Lai will be looking for that spirit once again: “We’ve talked a lot about the need to play consistent rugby, at the level that we played at in the grand final. There are games where we put 90 points on the board this season, but that doesn’t help us when we play Valley or Tigers, who are the real challenge.

“The key is how we transfer our play and performance in previous games into this crunch match.”

In other Premiership action, third-placed USRC Tigers head to Sports Road for a tie with fourth-ranked HKFC Ice, while CWB Phoenix host City Sparkle at So Kon Po (both at 18.00).

See the full weekend fixture here

Additional reporting and images: HK Rugby

 

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Women’s Rugby Fixtures – 18 February, 2017

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