Valley Black Win Grand Final!

Valley Black made it three Grand Championship wins on the trot in the Women’s Premiership defeating Gai Wu Falcons 15-7 in a competitive and defence dominated final at King’s Park.

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

WNL 2: Grand Championships Winners SCAA CWB Lammergeier

SCAA CWB Lammergeier are the 2016-17 Women’s National League 2: Grand Championships Winners after beating Tai Po in the final.

Women’s National League 1: Grand Championships Winners Tai Po Dragons

Tai Po Dragons are the 2016-17 Women’s National League 1: Grand Championships Winners after a comprehensive 19-0 victory over Revolution SRC in the final.

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

Women’s Rugby Grand Championships Finals Fixtures – 11 March, 2017

Rugby photo: Gozar Images

Valley And Gai Wu Victorious

Valley Black and Gai Wu Falcons advanced to their fourth straight Grand Final match-up after seeing off challenges from HKFC Ice and USRC Tigers respectively.

As form suggested, Valley returned to the Grand Final in style, beating HKFC Ice 41-5 to move one match closer to completing their third straight undefeated season.

Gai Wu were made to work hard for their 19-8 win over Tigers, coming back from an 8-0 deficit after a patchy first half display. Despite the bumpy start, Falcons coach Lai Yiu-pang was pleased his side pulled out the late win.

“Overall, I’m satisfied with the performance, we needed a game like that before next week,” he said, while crediting the Tigers effort. “It was a great performance today from Tigers. They are absolutely a quality side. It didn’t surprise me that they gave us a lesson in the first half,” said Lai.

The Falcons faltered in the face of some significant pressure early on by Tigers. “We gave up too much possession in the first half, especially at the breakdown,” said Lai. “It was a scrappy first half performance, with lots of turnovers and mistakes. They outplayed us.”

The Tigers turned their pressure into points with the opening try coming mid-way through the first half before a late penalty extended the lead to 8-0 as the halftime hooter sounded.

Befitting a side laden with Hong Kong internationals, the Falcons regrouped to score 19 points and keep the Tigers off the scoreboard in a blistering second half display. “I was really pleased that after half time, we really came on strong,” Lai said.

Gai Wu exerted steady pressure from the outset, chipping away at a tiring Tigers defence that soon started showing gaps. Tammy Lau Nga-wun was on hand to finish off two driving mauls for Gai Wu, as the Hong Kong hooker showed good vision around the fringes with darting runs for tries to give the Falcons their first lead 12-8 entering the final quarter.

Shortly thereafter, another Hong Kong international, scrumhalf Sham Wai-sum, made her mark as she extended Falcons lead to 17-8 with an opportunist try off a tap and go penalty against Tigers for collapsing the scrum.

It was just reward for some strategic play and sustained pressure by Gai Wu. “The team reacted well in the second half. We had a different mindset and kept the ball much better. The tries came from continuous pressure rather than individual brilliance,” Lai said approvingly.

One worrying sign for Falcons ahead of next week’s climactic battle with Valley was the loss of Aggie Poon Pak-yan who failed a late fitness test for a rib injury and was pulled from the squad shortly before kick-off. Hong Kong U18 sevens squad member, Joyce Chui Kam-chi, one of a promising generation of future Falcons ably filled in at full-back, performing well in a high-pressure tie.

The win sets up a tantalizing rematch of last year’s showcase match in the Women’s league when Valley came from behind to pip Gai Wu 12-10 at the hooter in a thriller.

With that battle in mind, Lai believes his side will be better for today’s stress test. “I’m glad we got a lesson like that in the semi-final. The challenge ahead will be even tougher. It was a good opportunity for us to play such a quality side in the semi-final.”

Valley romped home without much difficulty against Hong Kong Football Club with Bella Milo marking her return from injury and first action of the season with a brace of tries – a feat equaled by Amelie Seure and Jessica Eden. Kelsie Bouttle was the odd woman out in the Valley scoring stakes with only a single try on the afternoon.

Zoe Smith slotting her first three conversion attempts, as Valley extended a 21-0 lead at the break to 41-5 by the end of the match.

Women’s Premiership Grand Final 2016-17

Valley Black v Gai Wu Falcons
@ Kong’s Park, Kick-off 16:30

Additional reporting and image: HK Rugby

Women’s Premiership Grand Championship Semi-final Preview

Valley Black host HKFC Ice (Happy Valley, 6pm) and Gai Wu Falcons take on USRC Tigers at KGV (4.30pm), in this weekend’s Women’s Premiership Grand Championship semi finals.

The Falcons and Tigers will meet in their winner-take-all match to see who advances to the grand final. Confidence levels at both clubs are high ahead of the match with Falcons spirits lifted by a strong performance in an 8-7 loss against Valley on the final league weekend. While Tigers dispatched Football Club, 52-12, on their last outing. Both teams enter the penultimate round well rested after walkovers in the quarter-final stages.

“Our confidence is high after the game against Valley. We enter this weekend with a lot of self-belief,” said Falcons coach Lai Yiu-pang.

“Defensively we improved a lot. Our structures were working, our skills, our tackle rate, everything – we performed really well. We put them under pressure and were able to keep the ball for long periods. We knew what we had to do and went about it in the right way.

“That is the style we have been after all season. We have to keep our phase play going, whether in the forwards or backs, and above all we have to keep hold of the ball,” said Lai.

That performance against Valley has Tigers on notice. “Gai Wu have improved a lot recently,” said Tigers coach Liu Kwok-leung. “I watched them play Valley. They’re strong mentally, and strong in contact. It will be a tough game.

“We need to work hard to build our phases and once we get the ball, it’s crucial that that we keep it in hand and make the most of it,” added Leung.

Gai Wu have beaten the Tigers twice in the league this season but Lai knows that league performances no longer matter. “It’s knockout rugby now, and we can’t underestimate anyone. Last year we lost out to Tigers for second place in the league so we know how strong they are.

“You can’t underestimate any opponent, especially Tigers. They’ve got the ability and they’ve got the players like Natasha Olson-Thorne and Nam Ka-man. Even though they finished third in the league, we know that anything can happen,” added Lai.

“We have to make sure our structure holds like it did against Valley. We have to play the territory game. We want to create momentum, but if we can’t, we need to be accurate in our kicking game to secure good field position.

“We have to enforce that understanding across the whole squad, to make sure everyone understands how to respond in different situations, in defence and attack,” Lai added.

Tigers are also entering the weekend ready for a full-throated roar. “We’ve played good rugby recently, and improved throughout the season. In our last game, we performed well. So the team is confident and our defence is going to be key,” Liu noted.

“We need to be strong at the back, and build from there. The entire Gai Wu forward pack are Hong Kong players; their conditioning is superb and they are very experienced.

“But we’ve got younger players who are coming up and learning fast. In the Grand Championships you don’t know what to expect. People can perform beyond even their own expectations. If we keep mentally strong, anything can happen,” Liu added.

Both teams will be impacted by injury or unavailability this weekend, for the Falcons, Melody Li Nim-yan is out of action due to an injury picked up on the recent sevens team training tour in New Zealand while another of Gai Wu’s trio of sevens stars, Candy Cheng, is also unavailable this weekend. Tigers’ injury concerns include stalwart Lindsay Varty, who is also out with an injury picked up in New Zealand,while emerging star Jessica Ho is still recovering from a shoulder injury and will have to pass a late fitness test to play.

The good news for Falcons fans is that Hong Kong international Aggie Poon Pak-yan is set to return from an ankle injury this weekend. “I’m looking forward to seeing how she contributes. She hasn’t played XVs for nearly a month,” said Lai.

Additional reporting and image: HK Rugby

Match Report: HK Scottish Kukris 26-5 USRC Tigers – 25 February, 2017

The Women’s National League 1 quarter final between Hong Kong Scottish Kukris and USRC Tigers had all the makings of a classic encounter, but the form was difficult to predict. Andrew Robertson reports as the teams who finished fourth [Kukris] and fifth [Tigers] in the league, faced-off in the Grand Championship.

Head to head Kukris had narrowly beaten Tigers at King’s Park, while in their most recent clash, the Tigers had easily beaten Kukris at The Rock. So much for home advantage. And the noise from the stands showed that the visiting Tigers supporters had every intention of being the loudest.

The match started at a frantic place, with both teams giving away penalties. Over eager or nervous? It was hard to tell. After a period of stout defending, the Kukris drove up the field. With ball in had LI Sze-ting passed the 22, and found two defenders between her and the try line. A classy double sidestep put her clean through, and she scored under the posts. Karis Cheng converted; 7-0 to HK Scottish.

The Tigers responded well, only for Kukris to soak up the pressure. Then HK Scottish won the ball and displayed excellent team work. Twice the ball carrier was tackled, only to execute an offload, putting Chung Hau-yi through to score. Karis Cheng converted; 14-0.

With halftime approaching Tigers looked to reduce their deficit, but Nieve Heskin gained the ball, drove through the defense and score Kukri’s third try. No conversion; 19-0 at halftime.

After an exceptionally thorough motivational briefing, Tigers came out with intent. But they reckoned without the Kukris defensive wall. Time and again the Tigers surged forward. Time and again the Kukris repelled. Then, with Kukris in possession, the ball was worked wide to winger Hui Man-ling, who sprinted from the halfway line to score under the posts. Karis Cheng converted again; 26-0.

The Tigers refused to give up and resumed their assault getting ever closer to the try line. A penalty against them seemed to have cleared the danger. But a hasty, as opposed to quick, tap left the Kukris unsupported. The Tigers pounced, stole the ball and easily scored in the corner. No conversion; 26-5. Kukris responded with another attack, while Tigers sought to regain the ball.

Neither team was able to trouble the scoreboard again before the referee blew full-time. The victorious Kukris will meet Tai Po in the semifinals, while the Tigers will be disappointed with the end to their season.