The Hong Kong Men’s and Women’s Premiership kicked-off on Saturday Sept 24 at Kings Park in Kowloon to herald the start of the 2016-17 season. The 6 Men’s premiership teams played 3 back-to-back matches; and 6 of 7 women’s teams were also in action on Saturday.
The first game in the Men’s tournament, was between Herbert Smith Freehills Hong Kong Cricket Club (HKCC) and Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish. Scottish took an early lead, 13-0 with a converted try by flanker Ewan Miller and 2 penalties. Once HKCC had settled, and dusted-off the pre-season cobwebs, they ran-in 20 unanswered points. This included a try on-the-stroke of halftime, by winger Brad Raper, to add to lock Adrian Griffith’s earlier effort, and went into the break 20-13 ahead.
Scottish began the 2nd half spritely but missed 2 penalties (hit the posts). It wasn’t until the 57th minute they finally managed to close the gap to 20-16 with their 3rd penalty effort of the half. This only revitalized the HKCC forwards who then pinned Scottish back to their try line. After a 4th penalty in as many minutes, HKCC was awarded a penalty-try to stretch their 27-13. At 76 minutes HKCC played safe with another penalty to extend their lead to 30-13. In the last move of the match, Scottish salvaged a try and pride, to earn a bonus point and a respectable scoreline, with HKCC winners 30-23.
For Scottish it was too little too late; HKCC safely negotiated their way through a match that could have been a potential banana skin. Outstanding for HKCC was their new fullback James Love, from Loughborough University, who kicked 15 points and looked very composed.
The .second match of the afternoon saw last season’s champion Societe Generale Valley beat Natixis Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC) 34-6. The match was closer than the scoreline suggests. These 2 teams fought a tough encounter, where Valley always just had the edge. Captain and flyhalf, Matt Rosslee put Valley ahead with 2 well-struck penalties to give Valley a 6-0 half-time lead. The second-half followed in the same manner with 3 more penalties from Rosslee and 2 for HKFC centre, Ben Axten-Burrett.
With 10 minutes to play, Valley managed to create space and find gaps in the HKFC defence. They ran in 3 tries in quick succession; the 1st by fullback Tiger Bax, then front-row Grant Kemp and finally winger Matthew Bell, with Rosslee converting 2 out of 3. The final scoreline 34-6 to Valley, with 19 points in the final 10 minutes of play. Until Bax crossed the line, Club was always in the match; they had gamefully resisted Valley pressure, always looked to run the ball and probe for gaps in the ‘red wall’ of Valley defenders. Eventually the pressure told; HKFC ran out of steam, leaked 3 tries and Valley deserved their hard-fought victory.
In the final match, Borrelli Walsh United Services Recreation Club Tigers played Sabre Kowloon. This was an even contest. Kowloon led at halftime 7-0, through a try by prop Jamie Tang, and conversion from flyhalf Jack Neville. In the 2nd half Tigers evened the score with try by flanker, Samuel Hocking, then edged ahead with a penalty from flyhalf Sam Walsh, before centre Sam Purvis scored a late try, converted by Ellis, to give Tigers a narrow but deserved victory 17-7.
Three matches, all evenly contested, but with victories for Valley, Tigers and HKCC. Club, Scottish and Kowloon will rue what might have been with missed chances. It was an afternoon when defence dominated at the expense of attack, and quality play was reliable place kicking from Rosslee (Valley), Love (HKCC) and Axten-Burrett (Club).
In the Women’s KPMG Premiership the games were not as tight. The current champions Societe Generale Valley Ladies comfortably beat South China Athletic Association First Pacific Causeway Bay Phoenix 45-7 in the opening match. Then last season’s runners-up, CPM Gai Wu Falcons trounced Kowloon Ladies 56-0; and in the final match, Borrelli Walsh United Services Recreation Club Tigers overpowered Premiership debutants Comvita City, 45-3. Even after one round, it looks as though the Ladies Premiership will be between Valley and Gai Wu.
Asian Rugby Sevens Series, Korea
In the second leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series, Hong Kong beat Sri Lanka in the final 36-0, to take a firm grip on the tournament points standing. Hong Kong won the first leg (against Sri Lanka) in Hong Kong. This was an assured performance by the Hong Kong team. They had lost their final group game the previous day to Korea, been beset by injury, but beat a resolute China in the semi-final 29-0 on Sunday, before comfortably defeating Sri Lanka. Hong Kong now lead the competition with 24 points, with Sri Lanka on 20 points. The final leg will be played in Sri Lanka in mid-October; the overall winner will compete at the 2017 Singapore Sevens.
In the women’s series, China beat Japan in the final, 21-14, with Hong Kong again coming 3rd beating Thailand 27-12. Japan won the opening leg in Hong Kong against China, and so both China and Japan are level on 22 points, with the tournament in Sri Lanka providing all to play for.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and now resident in Hong Kong.