Labelled ‘complete battlers’ and ridiculed by the rugby world, Tigers cap off fairy-tale Hong Kong Premiership turnaround
Less than three years after snapping a 38-game losing streak, Sam Hocking’s side secure league championship with superb season
Fox Sports presenter Sean Maloney labelled the Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers complete battlers when they were at rock bottom less than three years ago and Saturday saw them complete the ultimate turnaround.
Despite their 15-12 loss to Bloomberg HK Scottish, Societe Generale Valley’s 22-10 defeat by Natixis HKFC was enough to see Tigers secure the Old Mutual International Men’s Premiership league championship.
It was in the first round of the 2015-16 season that the Tigers’ 38-game losing streak that spanned more than two seasons came to an end.
However, win tallies of six that year and three the next gave no indication of the 11 victories that were to come this season.
“No one can believe it, it will take a while to sink in,” said chairman Marco Cassandro, who has been at the helm throughout the resurgence. “The league championship is more important to us [than the grand championship].
“It always has been because it rewards the best team consistently throughout the year. We’d obviously like to win the grand championship as well, but this is hard work.”
It was at the 2015 Hong Kong Sevens that Maloney became aware of the Tigers’ plight, saying on air after the event that they were “complete battlers, they have not won a game in three years”.
When made aware of the Tigers’ startling turnaround by the Post, a tongue-in-cheek Maloney was full of praise, rating their rise ahead of Leicester City’s shock 2015-16 Premier League title and Philadelphia’s Super Bowl win this week.
“The most pure ‘sluggers chance’ take of the last decade is undoubtedly the USRC Tigers, this is a true underdog story,” he said.
Tigers’ rapid progress has been no fluke, with Cassandro praising the combined effort that saw the club turn their culture around.
“When I took over, we had a lot of players leave to join clubs with club facilities, which is always a challenge in Hong Kong,” he said.
“We had to change the culture, so we focused on the people who had been a part of the club for a long time.
“We didn’t want to have the culture of just bringing in lots of players for money, we wanted to create a culture that lasts a long time.
“We were sticking to our core values [through the tough years], they were more important than winning games.”
Cassandro praised the work past coaches Chris Davies and Craig Stewart did in laying the foundations for success, while first-year coach Sam Hocking has had a huge impact on the group.
“I think it’s huge for the club, it’s been a long time coming,” Hocking said. “I’ve been here four years and the first couple of years we didn’t win a game.”
Saturday’s match was a dour affair, with Casey Stone and Braam Gerber scoring tries for Tigers and Josh Dowsing and Jack Wardle crossing for Scottish, with Wardle’s effort with six minutes remaining proving the difference.
The final match of the round saw Kowloon defeat Herbert Smith Freehills HKCC 41-21. The grand championship quarter-finals take place after the Lunar New Year, with Valley hosting HKCC and Scottish tackling Kowloon, while Tigers and HKFC enjoy the week off.