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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Match Report: CWB Phoenix 15-12 USRC Tigers

In one of two close mid-table games in the Women’s Premiership last weekend, a hungry SCAA Causeway Bay Phoenix side scored an upset 15-12 victory over USRC Tigers.

The entertaining match was in the balance throughout, with the lead changing hands in both halves, good defensive work from Causeway Bay held off some early Tigers probing, and laid the groundwork for a multi-phase attack that ended with a try for winger Hau Sin Man on 20 minutes.

The Tigers hit back quickly with a try of their own, and then a second, as Winnie Siu picked the ball out of a ruck and carried it three-quarters of the length of the pitch, before touching down beneath the posts. The simple conversion gave Tigers a 12-5 lead.

Phoenix were not to be kept down, and as the first half drew to a close, offered up a near repeat of their first effort, moving the ball quickly out to Hau Sin Man on the right wing who outpaced the Tigers defence and narrow the deficit to 10-12 at half-time.

The second half was equally competitive, but remained scoreless until, with six minutes remaining on the clock, Causeway Bay’s determination, and a lack of experience from several Tigers replacements called up from National League 1, led to a third try for Hau Sin Man, as the Pheonix snatched a 15-12 win.

Causeway Bay’s coach, Ocean Chow, was understandably pleased with the result, but also with his players’ mental game: “We deserved to win based on the players’ mindset,’ he said.

“This was a vital game and gives us a strong position to secure a better route against the upper teams in the Grand Championships. We focused on treating this game like a knockout match and the players believed we could do it. Mentally, this win is going to be very important going into the GCs.

“In the last round, we didn’t score on Tigers [0-32, 15 Oct]. This time, the players didn’t lose focus by complaining to the referee about this and that. That kept the game rolling, which was in our favour.”

That focus allowed the team to play up to their potential, Chow believes. “Everyone was ready. We made a lot of tackles, and we made them count. Our back row kept up the pressure – keeping it tight and forcing penalties and then when we won the ball we moved it quickly along the line and into attack. That was our plan and we executed it.”

Losing coach Liu Kwok Leung put the loss down to the disruption to the line-up, (ten of his first team regulars were on national duty either at the Sevens training camp in New Zealand, or with the U19s in Singapore), as well as nerves among some of the younger players brought up from National League One as replacements.

“We made mistakes on the ball – getting the simple stuff wrong, which you can’t do at this level. In the end, we gave up the whole game,” Liu said. “We had too many new players, and they didn’t integrate properly. In the forwards especially, there was a lack of cohesion. We lost quite a few set pieces, and in the rucks, they often turned us around with a counter-ruck.

“We gave them too much time. Right at the end, our girls dropped their concentration a notch, and made mistakes on the wing.”

On the bright side of a tough day Liu said he found some gold in his new recruits: “A few of the players coming up did well. I was especially impressed by Sarah Wong Ka Ying, who did very well and will likely feature in the first team even when the international players are back.

In the weekend’s other Premiership game, HKFC Ice remained on track for another strong Grand Championship tilt in their second season in the Premiership, beating Kowloon 10-0.

For all the weekends scores and the tables see here.

Additional reporting and photo: HK Rugby

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Premiership Preview: 11 February, 2017

USRC Tigers bid to close the gap on league front-runners Valley Black and Gai Wu Falcons took a hit last week when they forfeited their match due to a lack of numbers, a problem that will persist this weekend when they visit CWB Phoenix, with the Hong Kong Women’s Sevens team in New Zealand for a training camp and the U19s team on tour in Singapore.

“We are still struggling with our numbers, as around 10 players are missing with either the Hong Kong Sevens team or the national U19s in Singapore, so we are bringing in some players from our NL1 side. I am confident they can handle it,” said coach Liu Kwok Leung.

Liu has prepared his side for the uptick in international competitions this season: “Fortunately, we anticipated the demands of the national teams on our squad before the season. Over the summer, we focused on a lot of development work to bring new players into the NL1 set-up, who can now feed through into that team, while the stronger players get run-outs in the first team.”

“It’s another chance for the newer players to get their experience in first team roles. They are good enough to play at this level, but they just need experience. This is a good opportunity for them to step up and press their claim for more permanent spots,” says Liu.

While some coaches have complained about the impact of the increasing national team commitments on the league, Liu remains supportive.

“The competitiveness and demands on players at national-level forces clubs to bring up new players. We have had to recruit and develop a lot of new players and that is good for the game in the long-run. Without that [commitment] it is hard to maintain two functioning teams,” Liu added.

Adrift of the league leaders by 20 points, Liu is realistic about his side’s chances to contest the league after finishing second last season.

“With our numbers what they are, there is not much we can do about our league standing so we are now focusing 100% on the Grand Finals. The coaching team has the same goal and same target to have the best possible team fit and ready for that competition,” Liu added.

Some respite came for Tigers with the news that all of their injured players have now passed fit for the weekend ahead and Liu is expecting a stiff challenge from the fifth-seeded Phoenix.

“We will use this game and the rest of the league fixtures to prepare for the Grand Final. It gives us an opportunity to test our strongest combinations for the end of season. Causeway Bay are really physical in the contact area. They have some good players from the international schools and they run hard.

I saw them play against Kowloon [14-12 win for CWB on 21 Jan] and was impressed. Our focus in training this week has been on making our tackles count. If we can stop their attack, and keep the ball in our hands, we can make use of our own capability in attack,” Liu added.

For their part, Causeway Bay will enter this weekend’s tie with a temporary advantage, in being able to run out a settled side against Tigers.

“We have no national squad players in this team, so that evens things up a bit when Hong Kong teams are in action, like now. Tigers have some good players missing, so that gives us an advantage,” said coach Ocean Chow.

Like his counterpart Liu, Chow is focusing the team on preparing for the Grand Championships.

“As the league will finish soon, we are targeting the knockout stages in the Grand Championships. This game is like a knockout for us and I want our players to treat this match as preparation for the Grand Championship knock-out stages. We still have a chance to advance to the semi-finals,” said Chow.

Despite coming off a lengthy period of inaction, Chow is excited about the looming grand final stages, saying, “Everything is in play. All the players have taken a good rest over the New Year break and we don’t have any injury problems.

“This will be a difficult game as Tigers are a strong side, but I think we can handle them. If we win, we still have a chance to get into the top four in the league,” noted Chow.

“We’ll play our own style, using our backline and feeding through to the wings. We like to counterattack, so we’ll be looking to take advantage of that any time we get possession,” Chow added.

Additional reporting: HKrugby
Image: Panda Man

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Valley Black Power Past USRC Tigers

It was another Valley Black onslaught at Happy Valley as the defending Grand Champions put USRC Tigers away early with three tries in the opening 20 minutes, before lapses in concentration saw them drift for the remainder of the half.

James Elliot, Valley’s coach, credited a tough Tigers pack and injuries to several key players – Hong Kong internationals Adrienne Garvey, Colleen Tjosvold and Stephanie Cuvelier were all missing from the backline – as partial reasons for the drift. “Tigers were really strong at the scrums and dominated us on a few occasions,” said Elliot.

“We also had a lot of unforced errors due to a lack of cohesion in the backs as there were quite a few replacements today, some of whom hadn’t trained together or even played yet this season. But we still have four weeks remaining to work on that cohesion before the Grand Championships” added Elliot.

Valley scored seven tries with flanker Olivia Coady and No.8 Amelie Seure both collecting braces, while Nadia Cuvelier, Zoe Smith and Caitlin Spencer added tries of their own. Smith added four conversions.

With four of those tries coming from the forwards, Elliot gave due credit to his back row trio of flankers Coady and Toto Cheng and No.8 Seure for holding up to the Tigers challenge.

“Amelie and Olivia combined really well and Toto was everywhere causing problems for the Tigers, she was a real livewire.”

Adrienne Davis, promoted from the club’s NL1, performed well as did Spencer, who scored Valley’s opening try on her first match for the club in five years after recently returning to Hong Kong.

Extra tackling practice is likely this week after two Valley players were sin-binned in the final ten minutes for high tackles, allowing Tigers to put their only points on the board in the 76th minute. Valley Black have now conceded just 21 points over eight games this season.

In the days other Premiership action current table toppers Gai Wu Falcons comfortably beat HKFC Ice 73-3, Valley have two games in hand on the league leaders. Kowloon were left frustrated after a narrow loss to Causeway Bay Phoenix in a match where it enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but saw the result slip from their hands through unforced errors.

Additional reporting and photos: HKrugby

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Premiership Preview – 21 January, 2017

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

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Valley Black Beat City Sparkle, 64-5

valley-black-3-december-2016

Valley Black beat City Sparkle, 64-5, in the final Women’s Premiership match of 2016 at Shek Kip Mei. Defending league and Grand Champions Valley made a statement with their numbers – and not just on the scoreboard – as the side pulled out a win despite having eight of its regulars absent on international duty.

Six Valley players are with the national team squad as Hong Kong prepares for next week’s Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifiers, while two were away with the successful Hong Kong U18 Girls Sevens squad that won the Asia Rugby U18s Girls Sevens championship in Dubai.

Despite being light on numbers, Valley was keen to accept the fixture with City, as both sides wanted a run ahead of the winter break. With just 16 regular first team players available, Valley coach James Eliot called upon the club’s National League 1 players and they stepped up in fine fashion.

The team’s established players led the way for the newbies, with winger Laurel Chor and fullback Zoe Smith accounting for three tries each, while captain Olivia Coady collected a brace as the Valley juggernaut rolled on.

“Going in to a game without eight national team players would have probably put a big drain on almost any other club, but we called up the girls from our NL1 side and they really stepped up,” said Elliot.

“I’m so proud of them. We had so many players come into the game today, many of them playing out of position and knowing we needed them to play a huge amount of minutes, and they really came through. Some of the girls played more minutes today than they have all season,” Elliot added.

Today’s influx of players from the lower leagues brings Valley’s total numbers of players appearing in the Premiership to date this season to 34, as Valley adds depth to its growing list of threats.

Elliot credited City for meeting the fixture: “Everyone said we were crazy to want to play with only 16 players, but we didn’t play last week and neither did City and we both wanted to get more games in before the break,” Elliot added.

“And it was a really good game. City put up a great fight. They never let up and played with a lot of heart. The try they scored was a beauty, they ran right through us; there was a lot of good rugby played today by both sides,” Elliot added.

Today’s result returns Valley to the top of the table alongside Gai Wu Falcons, both of whom are on 29 points. Valley, with a game in hand, has the head-to-head advantage after beating Falcons a fortnight ago.

“We do need a break now,” said Elliot, “We’ve been working hard on our aggression around the pitch and in eliminating some communication issues and giving away fewer penalties and will continue to work on those things for when we start again.

“But we can take a lot of confidence from that result. It shows that we are more than just a team, we are a club and that even without our internationals we can still play winning rugby,” Elliot added.

womens-premiership-3-december-2016

Additional reporting and photo: HKRU

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Women’s Premiership Preview – 29 October, 2016

hk rugby oct 2016

This weekend’s Women’s Premiership features clashes between the league’s four remaining unbeaten sides. The title contenders will meet for the first time this season when USRC Tigers host Valley Black at Kings Park (3pm) and Gai Wu Falcons travel to Sports Road to play HKFC Ice in Saturday’s second tie between unbeaten sides at 6pm.

In the day’s third match, Kowloon will face off against SCAA Causeway Bay Phoenix at KGV, (6pm), with both sides having come close to their first wins of the season in recent weeks.

Valley Black have extended their historic two-year unbeaten streak into a third season, scoring 154 points in their three matches to date; third-ranked Tigers have posted a similarly impressive 126 points over their three victories this season.

The Tigers, who finished second in the league last year before being edged out of the Grand Championship stakes, have clear ambitions to figure in the top two this time around, but will be tested heavily on Saturday.

The scrutiny will go both ways as Valley are under no illusions as to what they can expect, with coach James Elliott calling Saturday’s match a “tough exam.” “None of the games are going to be easy, especially against Tigers, Football Club or, of course, Gai Wu. It is still just the start of the season so we need to be ready for anything.”

Despite facing their first real threat of the season, it’s business as usual according to Elliott.

“Our preparation has been nothing special, we have done some contact work and kept up on our fitness. We’re missing a couple of players, so there will be a bit of a reshuffle, particularly in the pack, but we have no major injuries.”

Spectators should be in for some exciting running rugby as two of the league’s premier backlines enter Saturday’s match. The Valley backline features a number of Hong Kong Sevens squad members and nearly the entire group was invited to trial for the National XVs earlier this week.

“Our backline performance will be hugely important. Tigers also have a great backline, and that is where the competition will be – I’m expecting an open, running game. It will be a fast game, which is fine for us, fine for both teams actually,” Elliott added.

Valley’s already imposing backline will be bolstered by the addition of sevens squad mainstay Colleen Tjosvold as she gets her first fifteens action of the season after being on international duty for Hong Kong early in the season. Tjosvold will join her sevens teammates Adrienne Garvey and Amelie Seure in the squad.

Valley captain Olivia Coady is excited about the challenge ahead; “We watched Tigers play last week [a 49-0 win over Kowloon]. They looked really strong. There has been some good competition already this season, but this weekend will be our biggest test so far.

“I’m also expecting a fast, running game, perhaps even a high scoring one. We don’t care about necessarily winning big, just winning,” Coady added.

Tigers coach Liu Kwok-leung agrees that the Premiership is about to get much more challenging for his team. “It’s the time to test the players in the field. Valley is a top team and I expect to learn a lot about our players, and about Valley, tomorrow. And they will learn a lot too. Every season when we play them, it exposes something, and I hope it will be positive for us tomorrow.”

National team players Natasha Olson-Thorne, Nam Ka-man and Lindsay Varty are all back from duty and are set to start for Tigers, and with only a couple of injuries to disturb his selection options, Liu expects a tight match saying, “It will be really close but we don’t feel too much pressure.”

Having earlier in the season expressed concern over his charges’ ability to maintain focus for the full 80 minutes, Liu believes there is enough in his team to give champions Valley a real fight.

“We’ve done a lot of work on our defence and our players have grown a lot since last season. We will focus on our defensive patterns, and if we can maintain them and convert defence into attack smoothly, it’ll be a really exciting game that brings out the best in both teams.”

Gai Wu will take their perfect record to meet fellow unbeatens HK Football Club. On current form they should have the upper hand, however, their hopes to add a league-leading fourth consecutive shutout could be in jeopardy against a battling Football Club outfit.

womens-rugby-29-oct-2016

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Gai Wu Falcons Flying Start Continues

gai-wu-scrumhalf-tang-wai-kwan

Gai Wu Falcons continued their perfect start to the Women’s Premiership season beating City Sparkle 58-0 in round four. In the other matches HKFC Ice beat CWB Phoenix 22-14 at King’s Park while the USRC Tigers beat Kowloon 49-0.

The return of Gai Wu’s sevens stars proved too much for Premiership debutants City as Chong Ka-yan ran in four tries alone. Coach Lai Yiu-pang also credited Melody Li Nim-yan for her commitment and work rate and welcomed sevens captain Christy Cheng Ka-chi back for her first fifteens action this season.

“It was really good to get the sevens girls back. Christy played about 30 minutes and she looked really good and Melody was all over the park today. Ka-yan [Chong] may have even had a fifth try it was hard to keep track,” said Lai.

Gai Wu prevented their opponents from scoring for a third consecutive game this season and have now posted 145 points for to zero against over just three matches.

Despite this prodigious strike rate, the Falcons still trail Valley Black – who were on bye this weekend – on points differential. Valley are on +154 after three wins to start the season, keeping the Falcons nestled in second place on the table behind last year’s double-winners.

In other Premiership action, USRC Tigers mauled Kowloon 49-0. It was a disappointing set-back for a Kowloon side that had come within a minute of claiming their first win of the season last week against HKFC and were looking to string together another strong performance. But the Tigers proved too strong.

Tigers coach Liu Kwok-leung was pleased the way his side stuck to their desired structure saying, “This result is what we planned for. We followed our game plan all the way, kept our intensity high and used our width and attacking space well. Everyone played their part well. It was very smooth.”

Liu was also pleased to have his own sevens players back, none more so than the influential Natasha Olson-Thorne. “Natasha was a key player for us tonight. At times when we struggled with our decision-making and the ball was getting messy, she always showed the leadership to rebuild momentum.”

HKFC Ice had the best of its second tight encounter in as many weeks beating CWB Phoenix 22-14. Ice’s forward pack proved the difference in a strong opening half, keeping Causeway Bay under near constant pressure with the first try coming midway through the half.

The pressure led to penalties for Causeway Bay and a succession of yellow cards enabled Football Club to add a second try on a 13-strong Causeway Bay shortly before halftime. Football Club added a buffer-try in the third quarter but Causeway Bay fought back with two successive tries to close the gap to 17-14 before Club collected a bonus point try for the 22-14.

“It was a ding-dong forwards battle,” said HKFC coach David Wigley. “Causeway Bay really upped their game in the second half and had us worried. They have some big strong forwards, and as we got a bit lazy in defence, we were struggling to control their pack.”

Wigley singled out Rosie Fong for her masterful control of the match and scrumhalf Henrietta Wong for solid display.

Full women’s rugby results for 22 October, 2016 here

Woman's Premiership table - 24 October, 2016

Additional reporting and image: HKRU

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