Kowloon out to earn respect in final with HKFC
It couldn't have been scripted better. Next week's Grand Championship final is a showdown between sides with a lot to prove to each other - Altus Kowloon out to boast that winning the league was no fluke, while Newedge Hong Kong Football Club keen to declare that losing the league was a travesty of justice.
Both won their respective semi-finals at King's Park without much bother yesterday evening. Club downed Tradition Valley 29-3, while Kowloon saw off Leighton Asia HKCC 28-17. With the appetisers out of the way, the main course on Saturday promises to be a feast for the purist fan as well as the casual observer.
Why? Simply because in the eyes of Kowloon, they feel they haven't earned the respect of some sections of the rugby community who feel their first league title in 30 years was undeserved, as they benefited from an off-the-park judiciary ruling that affirmed that Club had fielded an ineligible player - prop Nigel Hobler - in their second-round encounter.
Club won that game, but had the result overturned and the points awarded to Kowloon.
'We have a lot to play for next Saturday because there are certain people in the community who feel we won the league unjustly,' said Kevin McBarron, Kowloon's director of rugby.
Club coach Rob Naylor might be the first among that disgruntled crowd. But he chose to be diplomatic last night. 'Yes, it may add a little bit extra to next week's game,' he said. 'There is certainly no lack of motivation to beat them. But no matter what happened in the league, this is the Grand Championship final and we want to win it.'
Club's forwards snuffed out Valley's hopes of a shock win before a lethal backline scored three of the four tries in their victory. Centre Lloyd Jones grabbed a brace while No8 Tom Hayman and winger Adam Raby also crossed over. 'We were patient with the ball and just wore them down in the first half,' Naylor said, 'The most pleasing thing is that our defence stood firm all day and we didn't allow them to score a try.'
Club emerged from the semi-final with happy hearts and no worries in sight. The same cannot be said of Kowloon, who will be concerned over the fitness of two key players, No 8 David Tait and prop Andrew Li, who picked up injuries yesterday.
With the double in sight, Kowloon will be praying both are fit. 'This is Cup football; the side who make the fewer errors will win,' director of rugby McBarron predicted.
Coach Naylor agreed. 'We want to finish on a high,' he said.
'Our second and third teams are also in the finals in their respective divisions and the aim will be for all of us to celebrate.'
Club and Kowloon have met twice this season with the spoils being shared. Some might say that was because of outside interference - from the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's laws panel.
The teams can settle the argument on the pitch on Saturday.
Points Club were penalised for fielding an ineligible player, resulting in Kowloon winning the league for the first time in 30 years