Club draw first blood in clash of giants fit for gods
IT WAS perhaps a sign of things to come this season. Lightning and thunder greeted the titans of the Hong Kong rugby scene, Valley and Football Club, as they ran on to the racecourse pitch for the Cup final at the Valley 15s last night.
It seemed as if even the gods were approving the sight of the territory's strongest clubs meeting for the first time. And with the heavens opening out, in deluge and noise, Club scraped through to an 8-7 win over Valley.
The action on the pitch matched the electric-charged atmosphere in the air as Club drew first blood. It was a bitter pill for Valley to swallow. They lost custody of their own trophy and $5,000 prize money (which will go for the 'administrative' use of Club).
Valley were expected to roll everything before them yesterday. Fielding their first choice team, they looked favourites to retain their title. And coming up against a Club team bereft of Colony players Ashley Jones (prop), Grant Jamieson (lock), Rick Shuttleworth (flanker) and Justin Weston (fullback), Valley seemed destined to win.
But Club had different ideas. Led by former Hong Kong prop Morgan Chubb (filling in for injured captain Jamieson) making a comeback after missing out last season, Club dominated all aspects to go one-up over their arch-rivals.
Despite missing three of their top forwards, the Club pack were superior, outplaying Valley in the set-pieces and loose. The backs matched the commitment of their forwards in defence and even looked more innovative than Valley's star-studded backline which resembles the Hong Kong backline bar scrum-half Paul Welham.
Club's attacking options have been given a deadly edge by the presence of new South African scrum-half Rodney Meaker. The former Durban Collegians player was instrumental in Club's first score when he kicked a neat grubber for fly-half Robin Bredbury to beat the defence and score by the corner flag.
Valley, who were almost caught napping by Police earlier in the semi-finals (when Police quickly kicked off at the changeover and almost scored with the Valley team in a huddle), were once again on the receiving end with Club taking a quick kick-off.
A try was averted, but play was brought near the Valley goalline and they paid for it when their backline was penalised for off-side. Bredbury put over the penalty (a drop-goal according to the rules of the competition) to give Club an 8-0 lead.
Valley struck back through a superb piece of play by fly-half Jamie McKee. Off a tap penalty, Valley number eight Stuart Krohn set up the maul and the ball was quickly recycled to the backs. McKee, stepping inside, caught the Club defence unawares for the first time in the game before passing to centre Rodney McIntosh. Despite doing a juggling act with the wet ball, McIntosh scored under the posts to give Isi Tu'ivai a simple conversion for 8-7.
Club, however, held on for the four remaining minutes, to emerge victorious.
As expected it was a Valley v Club final. But the other team to catch the eye yesterday were Police.
Valley, despite the exhortations of Krohn, failed to impress against Police who missed key players Jim Walker, John Dingley and Tony Harker. But the presence of a couple of Marines, a flanker and a centre, injected life into the side and only some individual brilliance from Tu'ivai and Krohn saw Valley scrape through into the final winning 10-0.
Club, meanwhile, had defeated Kowloon 10-0 at Causeway Bay. They came over to Happy Valley for the much-anticipated final. And emerged winners. A sign of things to come this season, perhaps.