HONG KONG—The 2017-2018 Old Mutual Hong Kong Men’s Premiership Rugby season kicked-off on Saturday Sept 23 at Kings Park. The opening match was between the current Champions, Societe Generale Valley and USRC Borrelli Walsh Tigers.
Valley crept across the line with a 24-21 victory. It was a match Tigers had between their teeth, until they let it slip in the 61st minute, with double yellow card against Dan Barlow and Matthew Price. For the next ten minutes Valley exploited their numeric superiority, shifted the game emphasis, and went from trailing 9-14 to leading 24-14, before Tigers were back at strength. Valley put the game beyond reach, despite a gallant effort in the final minutes by Tigers.
Valley opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a penalty goal from flyhalf Matt Rosslee. Tigers immediately responded, 3 minutes later, with the Tigers pack pressuring the Valley line for flanker Alex Woodburn to power over for the first try of the Premiership season. The conversion was missed, but Tigers led 3-5, and their game began to ooze confidence.
Tigers were well-marshalled in the backs by flyhalf Robbie Keith. For the rest of the half Tigers dominated territory and possession, and should have scored at least one more try. They would later rue their profligacy; whereas Valley did all possible to make every tackle count. Two more penalties to Tigers, converted by Robbie Keith and two more for Valley converted by Matt Rosslee, saw the first-half end with Tigers deservedly, but narrowly ahead 9-11.
The second half began where the first left off: Tigers were clearly the superior side. They controlled the line-outs, held firm in the pack, and looked sharper in the backs but could only add another penalty goal by Robbie Keith to extend their lead to 9-14.
Valley then had a player sin-binned, but 3minutes later, the numeric advantage to Tigers changed to advantage to Valley with the double yellow card against Tigers.
Immediately Valley smelt blood: and the match momentum changed. Two tries, one from scrumhalf Ruan Deplooy, who had a solid game, and another from the lively centre Taumafi Komiti, plus a conversion and penalty goal from Matt Rosslee. A likely defeat turned into probable victory for Valley, who now led 24-14.
Tigers attacked in the final 10 minutes, but could not convert pressure into points, until the last minute, when Tigers rumbled over for a try, which Robbie Keith converted to narrow the score to 24-21. It gave Tigers a losing bonus point. Small consolation for the victory they should have secured.
In the other two games, both were close and entertaining; Bloomberg Hong Kong Scottish, edged Freehills HKCC 43-35 in a high scoring encounter; and Natixis HKFC beat Kowloon 17-10 to claim the prized Broony Quaich.
All three games were tightly contested matches, which augurs well for the season ahead.
Grahame Carder is a sports enthusiast, former player and resident in Hong Kong.