Valley show superiority in battle of the heavyweights
Having paid respects to the souls of departed friends, Hong Kong Football Club came out determined to do their stuff and try to win in memory of the Bali victims. But Asahi Valley had other ideas as they ran out easy winners in the first meeting of the arch-rivals this season.
Valley defeated DHL Club 26-17 to stake their claim to the First Division League title in no uncertain terms.
The senior Club outfit, playing for the first time since the Bali bomb claimed the lives of members of social side Club Vandals a fortnight ago, took the long route out on to the pitch yesterday, emerging from a door near the Sportsman's Bar. They had paid a silent tribute to lost friends at the shrine set up at the club.
'We paid respects to the guys lost in Bali,' said No 8 Paul Dingley. Both teams then lined up for a one-minute silence before the game started. It was the calm before the storm.
For hardly three minutes had gone by before Dingley got the expected hot reception from his former teammates. His introduction to Semi Iafeta, who has taken over his position at the back of the scrum for Valley, was more like a wrestling bout. And it was not the type which is stage-managed as both players stuck into each other like two bulldogs fighting over their favourite bone.
'I wanted to make my presence felt immediately,' said Iafeta afterwards. 'We had to tell Club that we came here to play rugby and not for anything else. But I respect Paul Dingley. He is an outstanding player and he led from the front.'
But it was not quite enough for Football Club. By his own high standards Dingley had a quiet game. Iafeta, in turn, produced a polished performance and proved that he is a more than able replacement.
The scoreline suggests a close game. It was anything but that with Valley dominating play for the first hour in which time they had all but settled the result. The forwards, old and new, combined well. Iafeta starred as did old-timer Tom Hall. Newcomer Willie Leota is a solid addition to the front row of Stu Denton and Pete Spizziri, who laid the foundation for a scrum that rocked Football Club out of contention.
'We did the hard yards well today. We played exactly the way we trained. It was a black machine going forward,' said Iafeta.
Football Club came back strongly in the dying minutes, helped by the absence of a number of key Valley players who had dropped out due to injury. But by then had a bridge too far to traverse.
'It was not quite 80 minutes of rugby. We were lucky enough to win it in the first 60 minutes. But it is still great to beat Club. There is nothing better in Hong Kong rugby than beating Club on their own ground,' said stand-in skipper Denton.
By half-time Valley led 14-3. Or rather the scoreboard should have read Matt Dowling 14 Football Club 3. The ever-so-talented Valley fullback scored a try and knocked over three penalties, two from the halfway mark, to put paid to any hopes Football Club had of winning. Dowling, who has played for New South Wales in the Super 12 these past few seasons, might have added more to his tally but he limped out soon after half-time having pulled a hamstring while re-starting play with the kick-off.
His absence at the back was not felt as Jamie Goldberg impressed in both attack and defence. But still Football Club must consider themselves lucky that Dowling - in his first season back in 1996, Valley scored 695 points in 14 games with Dowling averaging around 24 points per game - retired prematurely.
The smooth-as-silk Dowling looked hardly troubled as he knocked over the penalties from every angle and distance. He then added a try which scrumhalf Jason Going created just before half-time.
Valley responded to his loss by scoring immediately. Winger Alex Telea dotting down after the ball was quickly moved wide from a five-metre scrum to make it 19-3. The lead increased when Football Club flyhalf Nigel D'Acre gifted a try, sending a bad pass which was cleaned up by Valley winger Simon Hague, who covered 65 metres to score under the posts. It was all over by then.
But to their credit Football Club stuck to the task at hand and scored when elusive fullback Chris Gordon was prevented from touching down by a high tackle which resulted in a penalty try.
With Iafeta joining Dowling on the sidelines due to a niggling injury, Club began to assert themselves more. Dingley quickly took a tap penalty to score from close range in the dying seconds. Warrick Dent added the extra points but it was only the trimmings. Valley already had the game in the bag.
'We left ourselves too much to do at the end. It was a pity that we let them get so far in front,' said Dingley.
Perry determined - Page 17