A match featuring the teams that have won the last seven grand championships between them was always going to be willing, but it was Valley who again showed their might.
The victory extended Valley’s undefeated streak to three full seasons and an unbelievable 42 matches as well as handing them their sixth of the past eight grand championships.
“They’re an awesome bunch,” enthused coach James Elliott. “All of them impressed me, but the usual suspects were good – Olivia Coady is a machine, Toto [Cheng], Frenchie [Amelie Seure], our back three were immense. And the backline is class. Obviously Bella [Milo] stands out. To me she is the most talented female rugby player I have seen.”
The heightened pressure of a final was evident early on, with both sides doing their best to settle as the forward packs felt out their opposite numbers. Valley looked livelier to begin with and found the try-line through dynamic back-rower Coady, with fullback Zoe Smith conversion on target the league champions jumped out to an early 7-0 lead.
Despite the early score, it soon became clear that tries were going to be hard to come by as the respective defences marked their territory. Gai Wu’s effort could not be faulted but they struggled to create genuine scoring opportunities, with Valley having all the answers every time their opponents looked to launch an attacking move. Valley pulled further ahead as half-time loomed, with Smith on target with a penalty, 10-0.
The second half was a battle of attrition, with Gai Wu putting it all on the line in an attempt to revive their hopes. The Falcons did the bulk of the attacking in the third quarter, with the period highlighted by some lively work from Chong Ka-yan on the wing.
Valley launched the odd counter, however neither team could trouble the scorers. The slog continued into the last 20 minutes of the match, with Valley wresting back the momentum and driving the Falcons back into their half.
Colleen Tsojvold and Adrienne Garvey battled hard as Valley threatened to cross again and eventually their sustained forward push returned results. Ex-Samoa captain Milo was the beneficiary, with the powerful centre cracking the Falcons line and dotting down to put the result beyond doubt.
“The last five minutes was a bit scrappy, but we had to bring off Karen [So] at prop because of cramp, she’s a Hong Kong front rower so if you bring someone like that off your scrum goes downhill,” Elliot said. “All our players got on the field and we had three 17-year-olds in the squad, so it was a good result.”
Gai Wu were rewarded for their relentless effort in the final minute with a penalty try, ensuring they did not go scoreless. “I’m disappointed with the result but I feel really proud of the girls,” Falcons coach Lai Yiu-pang said. “To play a side with a former Black Fern [Coady] and a former Samoa player [Milo], the girls have never experienced that kind of quality in Hong Kong before.
“We did really well in the second half and our performance showed that we’ve improved a lot. I don’t think any one player stood out, it was a team effort and we deserved to get some points at the end.”
Additional reporting, photos: HK Rugby