Mundigian sets up Valley crunch
Forget the mother of all battles, the sequel, coming to your TV screens soon. For next weekend, the rugby battle of the season will get under way when local superpowers Asahi Valley and DHL Club clash in the last round of the Grand Championship. It is a winners-take-all match. To the victors, the 2002-03 First Division League title. To the losers, a giant hangover from drowning the sorrows of what might have been.
The stage was set for the grand finale next Saturday after DHL Club defeated DeA Tigers 34-20 at King's Park while arch-rivals Asahi Valley emerged 47-3 victors over Descartes Kowloon at Happy Valley yesterday.
Club ran in three tries and lifted their game a couple of notches in the second half before finishing in cruise control. Their forwards were in superb form, battling loosehead prop Vatche Mundigian leading the way yesterday with a indefatigable display that lifted his side into the final unbeaten.
'It was a very composed performance from our forwards today. The lineouts worked and the scrums were solid,' said Club coach Andrew Tranent.
Across the harbour, it was a different story. Valley, also undefeated, began in cruise mode running in seven tries before the break - flying winger Alex Telea adding a brace to take his season's tally to a record 24 - and then switched off the engines. At half-time the score was 47-3. It ended 47-3.
'It was a bit of us stepping off the gas and it was a bit of Kowloon stepping up their play,' said bemused Valley spokesman Grant Beauzeval. 'I guess our guys did not want to take any chances and get injured.'
DeA Tigers tried their best to spoil it all for Football Club, living up to their name and tackling tigerishly in the early exchanges.
At half-time the score was deadlocked at 13-all. DeA led briefly with flyhalf Rob Naylor kicking his side into a 6-3 lead. But silly mistakes saw DeA needlessly remain under pressure near their own tryline. On both re-starts, DeA's talisman and prop Leighton Duley won the kick-off cleanly and set up the base of attack. But the ball was poorly used and loose passes saw Football Club win back possession to mount immediate pressure.
A lack of continuity at the breakdown also cost DeA hugely. Their 'stars' Seni Seruvakula, Logona Kerisome and Fred Moe, more often than not played in patches of individual brilliance. But they could not outshine the Club pack.
If Mundigian led from the front row, in the back row Paul Dingley had a huge game as did flanker Graham Black, who came on for injured openside Andy Randall early in the half. In the second row Jack Wilson was a tower of strength and, together with Dingley, easily dominated the lineouts, starving DeA of clean first phase ball.
DeA's lead was quickly overhauled as a result of a neat grubber by centre Nigel D'Acre which was picked up by hooker Tom Cameron waiting in the wings. Cameron was fortunate that DeA winger Peter Clough's basic footballing skills were poor. Trying to control D'Acre's kick with his foot, Clough let it go under his boot and Cameron was quick to grab the opportunity.
Owain Morrison added the conversion to an earlier penalty to see Club lead 10-6. He kicked another penalty while No 8 Seni Seruvakula, who was later sinbinned, crossed for 14-man DeA to make it all even at the break.
'Their forwards stepped up a gear in the last 20 minutes and we couldn't keep it up,' was how DeA coach Jim Walker summed it up afterwards.
Morrison knocked over a penalty and a try from fullback Anthony Boyd, which was the result of a counterattack after quick turnover ball at the breakdown, to see Club lead 21-13 midway through the second half.
The wheels were starting to feel wobbly for DeA. Errors crept into their play while their opponents just got better as the game wore on. A great rolling maul from the 22 metre line saw Club collect their third try, substitute flanker Tim O'Connor peeling off to score. Morrison converted to take his personal tally to 16 points and the score to 31-13.
DeA sub Johnny Zhang Zhiqiang struck a late and futile blow going over for his side's second try which Andrew Chambers drop-converted. In return, Club's flyhalf Warrick Dent showed he is a cool customer by dropping a goal from 25 metres out with his left foot.
'We showed today that we can compete with Valley in all aspects. It will be down to composure on the day and I guess it will all come down to individual flair,' predicted Tranent.
And he was quick to add: 'We have that flair and talent.' No beating about the bush with Tranent. Let's savour the fight until next Saturday.