HONG KONG—The Hong Kong Premiership began after the Christmas hiatus. The most interesting match-of-the-day was at the Hong Kong Football Club: Natixis Hong Kong Football Club against Leighton Asia Hong Kong Cricket Club. Both sides needed to win: Football Club (Club) to get momentum into securing a play-off slot, and HKCC to see whether their resurgent form from end 2015 can continue in 2016, and establish their credentials as a serious Premiership contender at the sharpest end of the season.
It was HKCC, who came away with the bragging rights, not only with a convincing victory over Club, 32-12; but they now lie second in the Premiership, albeit 22points behind Valley.
The game was keenly contested by both sides. The tackling was forthright throughout the match, and made evident in the first minutes when Club halted a HKCC counterattack, with a cruncher on the HKCC full-back, Alex McQueen. That tackle set the tone for the physicality of the match.
HKCC controlled possession and territory, forcing Club to defend. HKCC’s forward power, and skilled handling by backs and forwards created space and the opportunities for HKCC to score three tries in the half, plus a penalty, and lead comfortably at half time, 19-0. It often looked as HKCC need a few more metres of width to the pitch, as their handling and support play was markedly superior, with deft handling cameos by number eight Marcus Slade.
Such was the HKCC dominance in the first half, that Club only ventured in the HKCC 22m area once, before spilling the ball, and resuming defensive duty.
The second half began in the same manner: with HKCC extending their lead to 26-0, securing the 4th try bonus point, and looking as though it was ‘game over’.
Jamie Hood disagreed, and rallied his troops. Maybe HKCC relaxed, but Club did not wish the ignominy of being held to a ‘clean sheet’. It was Hood who led the charge, and injected energy into the Club effort to restore some pride on the score-sheet. He ran at HKCC, took quick penalties, moved the ball at pace and sparked life into Club so that defense morphed rapidly into offense. His efforts were rewarded, and after 60minutes Club had clawed one try back to make 26-7, then after 30minutes another try, 26-12, but it was it too little too late.
HKCC regrouped, and earned two penalties in the final 5minutes, to settle the final score at 32-12 to HKCC. It rounded-off a good start to the New Year, a win plus the bonus point, and satisfaction there’s nothing between them and Valley, except the cavernous distance of 22points, on the run-in to the play-offs.
Club, on the other hand, need to find that Hood-inspired intensity for 80 not 20minutes if they wish to usurp HKCC (or Scottish or Tigers) as ‘the club most likely to’ face Valley in the Premiership final.
In other Premiership matches on Saturday, Valley comfortably beat Kowloon, 42-21, with a 4try bonus point; and Scottish beat Tigers 20-11, where their defensive Highland nous overcame a clawless attack, despite Tigers prowling the Scottish half for most of the match.
The results leave Valley aloof, alone and all-conquering (so far) at the top of the table on 44points. HKCC second with 22points, and a game in hand; Scottish third on 20points; and Tigers fourth also on 20points, but with an inferior points difference. Club fifth, on 19points, and Kowloon sixth on 11points.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast and former player from representative Schoolboy level, through University and most corners where he has lived, currently works as Consultant on Strategy and Marketing.