High-flying Valley Black, Gai Wu Falcons to face off in gripping end-of-season showdown
The highlight of this weekend’s HKRU Women’s Premiership triple-header at King’s Park will be the end-of-season clash between league champions Societe Generale Valley Black Ladies and league runners-up CPM Gai Wu Falcons.
Valley boast the longest unbeaten run in Hong Kong rugby – 25 matches without loss – and a win over arch-rivals Gai Wu on Saturday would complete two perfect seasons and put them in prime position to defend their Grand Championship play-offs crown.
As an indication of the competitiveness between these two sides, Valley’s last reversal came at the hands of Gai Wu in the 2013-14 Grand Championship –a match that was decided by a single try.
In a hard-fought contest between the two sides earlier this season, Valley muscled their way to a 15-3 result with a defining second-half performance. On Saturday, they will again look to keep the action focused in the centre of the field.
“Gai Wu are extremely quick on the wing and have probably the best front-row in the Premiership but we should have an edge in midfield,” Valley coach Chris Garvey said.
“Our forwards continue to do an admirable job, while our backline has become extremely competitive, having previously struggled to get the ball over the line enough to make bonus points.
“Now we have girls on the bench who can come on and perform. There are no passengers in this side,” Garvey added.
Valley and Hong Kong veteran Colleen Tjosvold echoed Garvey’s reckoning.
“We’ll be looking to exploit our contact area skills and stop their wide attack. We play a good territory game and can inch our way up the field if necessary,” said Tjosvold.
“It will be a good game, but more about attrition than blinding long runs. They go for discipline and running down the flanks. We look to our contact strength to keep up unrelenting pressure.
“The success we’ve had gives you confidence but also a lot of pressure. You’re expected to keep it up. The pressure is always on – every team wants to beat us. You can’t win every game. I’m always confident, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Tjosvold added.
Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang is keen to topple the league winners, with an eye on staking an early claim on the Grand Championship, as the two sides are the leading contenders to advance to this season’s Grand Final.He expects his side to maintain possession and build phases in attack, capitalising on their superior fitness. “Conditioning is our strength, and we need to make it count,” Lai said.
He can draw on almost a full squad against Valley, as a number of players have returned from injury ahead of the play-offs, but the team will miss Tang Wai-kwan, a “key asset” according to Lai, who is grounded after receiving a red card last time out.
“Valley are physically stronger, so we need to put up a solid defence which has been our training focus. We have to apply pressure to contain them and we have been working harder on our defence patterns,” said Gai Wu’s vice-captain Melody Li.
While most observers favour Valley and Gai Wu to reach the play-offs finale, both coaches cautioned against discounting third-ranked Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers, who are coming into form and include a win over Gai Wu among their scalps this season.
By virtue of their successful league defence Valley will advance directly to the Grand Championship semi-finals, while the six remaining teams will contest knockout matches for the remaining three slots.
The other two top-tier women’s matches at King’s Park on Saturday will see Transact 24 Tai Po Dragons taking on Sabre Kowloon Ladies, with both teams looking for their first points of the season, and in the late game USRC Tigers facing off against fifth-ranked SCAA First Pacific CWB Phoenix.
Click here for full HKRU Women’s Premiership standings and results.