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

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

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

Women’s Premiership Grand Championship Quarter Final Round-up

HKFC Ice beat CWB Phoenix 32-5 while USRC Tigers and Gai Wu Falcons advanced by walkover to complete the semi-final pairings in the Women’s Grand Championship.

HKFC Ice will face undefeated league champions Valley while Falcons will play Tigers in next weekend’s semi-finals.

“I’m very happy with the result. Football Club versus Causeway Bay is one of the closest match-ups in the Premiership and it was a lot tougher than the scoreline suggests,” said coach David Wigley who was pleased with his side’s efforts on a day when everything went right for the Sports Road outfit.

“We started very well, at last. We’ve often started slowly this season, and it was a good time to put that right. We got a couple of tries early and that set us on track,” Wigley noted.

Two early first-half tries saw HKFC take a healthy lead with Jamie Bourk, celebrating her 19th birthday and her last game before departing Hong Kong for university, putting Ice on the scoreboard almost from the kick-off. A second try soon followed, coming off a driving maul as HKFC’s forwards handed a stiff challenge to their opposing pack. A similar move built around a driving maul at the close of the half added more points.

With both coaches predicting the backlines would be the difference makers ahead of the game, the match ran counter to form, developing as a physical battle between two accomplished forward packs.

“It wasn’t so much of a backline affair as I’d expected. All our players did well, but it was the forwards who carried the day. If anything, our backline could have used their possession better,” Wigley said.

“Our forwards took it to their forwards and beat them. It was the first time this season that our forwards have outscored the backs. We got in their faces and tried to stop the ball getting out to their wings and it seemed to work,” added Wigley.

Football Club kept up the pressure in the second half with Stephanie Sin scoring a 60th minute try, capping a well developed backline movement, before hooker Royce Chan Leong-sze added a try.

The prolific attack was matched with some dogged defence from HKFC. “Our defence worked well. Causeway Bay always attacks around the fringes but we were prepared for that and effectively neutralised their offensives.

HKFC’s hard-fought win ushered their closest competitors throughout the league season out of the Grand Championship stakes, but the challenge now gets stratospherically harder with the route to the final going through league champions Valley Black, who are unbeaten in three seasons.

HKFC Ice will look to hand Valley Black its first loss in 40 matches but Wigley knows it will be tough. “Unfortunately, a few of our girls will be away for the game against Valley but hopefully we can put up a good fight. We haven’t put in a good shift against them this season and we really want to show what we can do,” Wigley asserted.

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

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

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