Hong Kong Rugby Union: Scottish atop as mid-season recap looks at squads heading into holiday break
- All six teams offer their insights on how 2018 went, where they want to go in 2019, and stand-out players so far as they head into the Christmas break
- The last leg of the season kicks off January 12
We’re just about mid-way through the HKRU Premiership season and a clear theme has emerged: Bloomberg HK Scottish are the team to beat.
The squad currently sits first heading into the Christmas break, showing no signs of slowing down. Here’s a look at where all six teams sit as they pause for the holidays and gear up for the final stage of the season, which kicks off January 12.
Note: HK Scottish versus Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay tilt scheduled for December 19 has been postponed until 2019.
Bloomberg HK Scottish (7-1; 34 points)
Scottish have scored the most points so far this season with 261 and have a positive points differential of 125. They sit six points clear of second place Hong Kong Football Club, who they beat last week. Coach Craig Hammond said he wants his team to find yet another gear in 2019 and keep pace above the rest of the league.
“Having a big start after the Xmas break is key for me,” said Hammond, who is also a coach with the national 15 aside team. “We have performed well up until the Xmas break but the real rugby starts in January and February.”
Hammond and general manager Bryan Rennie mentioned a few key players have helped them snatch the top spot in the league.
“Our pack has improved significantly from last year, thanks to the additions of Owen Evans and Dayne Jans, just to name a few,” said Rennie. “Andrew Henderson returned to the club from the UK and adds real experience along with new signings James Christie and Sean Taylor who both been on fine form along with our HK players bringing international experience to the mix.”
Natixis Hong Kong Football Club (6-3; 28 points)
Coach Jack Wiggins said overall he is pleased with his team’s performance so far, however knows the road ahead is only going to get tougher.
“We are six from nine so we would have taken that at the beginning of the season,” said Wiggins, who joined the club in October of this year. “The set piece is always going to be a work on for us. We have been doing a lot of work to try and make sure we get parity in that area.
Wiggins said Scottish have shown that quality scrums and line-outs are crucial to a team’s success, and it is something HKFC want to get better at.
“We just need to achieve a bit more parity there because if we get a sniff to play, we have dangerous backs and are a great attacking side. If we get the set piece sorted we are going to be right up there.”
HKFC sit second in point differential with 110, and will kick off their 2019 campaign against Societe Generale Valley on January 12.
Wiggins said back row Tom Stanley, an import player from Cambridge University, has been an exceptional addition to the club while also working full-time in banking.
“Jevon Groves is a bit of a stalwart now after a few seasons at the club, just putting shifts in and Campbell Wakely (an import player from the University of Queensland) has been a revelation for us at loose-head. Really happy with all of the squad honestly, they are a grounded group of guys.”
Societe Generale Valley (5-4; 27 points)
Valley endured a rough start to the season, but have shown improvement in the last two games, beating both the USRC Tigers and Kerry Hotel Kowloon Rugby to bring themselves above .500. However coach Andrew Kelly wants more from his club, who won the Grand Championship final last season.
“Before (the last two games) we have actually been fairly poor by our standards. We need to get better in the second half of the season.”
Kelly said he wants to work on his team’s “control as a 15” next year, and clean up some other parts of the team’s game which includes a lack of discipline.
“We are getting a bit heated and giving away silly penalties at silly times and having guys yellow carded. We just need a bit more composure and that will help us bit. We would have like to have been more composed at the start of the season so that is still a bit work on for us.”
The group has benefited from the addition of veteran full back Scott Davidson, who came over at the start of the season from New Zealand and has been a revelation.
Of course, the goal remains the same for Valley, said Kelly, to return to the Grand Championship and defend their title.
“Hopefully we get to the finals and that is where that composure really tells.”
Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers (5-4; 24 points)
Less than three years after snapping a 38-game losing streak, the Tigers clawed all the way to the top of the league last season, winning the men’s Premiership. They did lose to Valley in the Grand Championship, however, the team’s ascent has caught everyone’s attention.
Coach Samuel Hocking, who has been a big reason for the club’s turnaround, said he’d like to start 2019 better than they finished 2018, which featured a loss to Valley.
“Overall, I’m happy to be in the top four and hopefully we can come back from Christmas and consolidate that. But there is a bit of disappointment in the way we have rolled into Christmas.
The Tigers are known for having slow starts, and Hocking said he is out to remedy that after the break.
“We had the same problem last year, to be perfectly honest. We were slow starters last year as well, but we have changed some things and I’m reasonably happy overall and we will now just look to target that game against Scottish.”
The Tigers will lock horns with Scottish in their first game of 2019 on January 12.
Hocking said he is had a few players stand out this season, most notably Robbie Keith, who upped his game after a positional change.
“He is kicking well and we moved him to full back which seems to have given him a bit more freedom. Nick Seymour at hooker has played well, and our captain Josh Hrstich (who is currently injured), we have really felt his loss over the past two weeks.”
Herbert Smith Freehills HKU Sandy Bay (2-6; 12 points)
The former Hong Kong Cricket Club side has shown improvement from last season already where they only won one match, but second year head coach Brett Wilkinson wants more from his side.
“Obviously we have a lot to still work on so we’re not pleased with where we are at the moment but feel we are building in the right direction.”
The former Connacht prop from South Africa said the main goal for 2019 is to work on refining his team’s game. The club has moved from the HKCC down to the Aberdeen Sports Grounds as well as donning a new kit in linking up with Sandy Bay’s well-known youth programme.
“I think it’s just continuing to build that confidence to go out and play and cut out the little errors and the mistakes we are making. Going forward it is just to cut those out and we will be in a lot better position.”
Wilkinson said youngster Zac Cinnamond, who is 24 and previously played for Hong Kong’s under-20s squad, has shown improvement, as well as noting he has gotten some great play from Nick Cumming, Gair Currie, Jack Metters, Angus Cameron and Luke van der Smit as well.
“Everyone is improving really,” he said. “So we just have go out and build on the hard work we have done and take that forward into 2019.”
Kerry Hotel Kowloon Rugby (1-8; 6 points)
Sitting at the bottom of the table is a position no one wants to be, but new head coach Scott Sneddon, who is also an international skills coach with the Hong Kong Rugby Union, said injuries have decimated his team this year.
“The reality is that we have played our last four games without five of our starting back line.”
He added for their last match of 2018 against HKFC they had 33 players out of 50 unavailable.
“It’s not going to change overnight but things will get better in January when we should have 10 players returning from injury. We have a good squad but we do not have the strength in depth and that is the reality of it, but I cannot fault any of the guys for their effort week in, week out.”
Sneddon said he is hoping the break will allow some injuries to heal and they can use the last six games of the season to make a push for the play-offs, which will feature the top four teams.
“Take the last few games away and if you look at the games prior, we have been in them all through 65 minutes so potentially maybe our fitness is a work on. But the reality is that we have been depleted, so when other sides are putting their subs on at 60 or 65 minutes we just do not have that luxury.”
So far Charlie Piper and the front row has been playing well for Kowloon added Sneddon and “James Sawyer and James Cunningham have been outstanding for us, as well as Lewis Warner, and Phil Whitfield our captain.
“We have had a lot of great individual efforts. We have a tight-knit bunch and with a few guys coming back in January, and we can get the results we need.”