Photo credit: HKRU
As the KPMG Women’s Premiership split into two tight four-team units for the second half of the season, league champions Societe Generale Valley were forced to adapt to see off an impressive Eco Gai Wu Falcons side 21-14.
All sides crossed the line yesterday for the first time this season, with Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers securing top spot in the restarted KPMG Women’s Premiership table thanks to a 48-5 victory over Natixis HKFC Ice- a significantly better margin than two weeks back.
Kowloon Ladies maintained their recent winning form by heading up the new KPMG Women’s Premiership Development, courtesy of a 41-15 win over SCAA First Pacific Causeway Bay, whose early-season form has progressively faltered.
In the meantime, Transact 24 Tai Po Dragons took out their game against Comvita City Sparkle, 15-5.
As Valley and Gai Wu played out another repeat of last year's Grand Championship Final, the absence of key players on both sides made for a stern test of the depth and tenacity of both sides.
It was Valley who began with an impressive display of consistency and pressure as they camped on Falcons’ 22through much of the first half, winning scrums and turnovers to keep the ball and control the game.
As was the case last time out, it was player-coach Bella Milo who took first blood, seizing on a kicked ball to put down on the left-hand side after 15 minutes.
Regular kicker Zoe Smith’s successful conversion from close to the sideline was a taste of things to come.
In reply, Gai Wu, in a rare first-half foray into Valley territory, recently signed New Zealander Greer Muirbroke through the Valley siege, and fended off a number of defenders on a 70-metre run to the far line, to set up an equalising conversion by talisman Lee Tsz Ting.
Valley secured a second reward for their efforts on the half-hour, when a cross-field kick from teenager Kelsie Boutle was deftly kept from going out of play by Stefanie Cuvelier, setting the stage for summer signing Jade Birkby to register a try to put Valley 12-7 to the good.
Photo credit: HKRU
Far from being fazed, Gai Wu came out in an attacking frame of mind and visibly took the momentum, controlling the pace of the game for large periods. However, a series of unforced errors meant that solid approaches to the Valley line ended up conceding possession.
At the other end, a resolute Gai Wu defence successfully defended its line but was undone on 13 minutes when a Valley penalty 30 metres out was impressively converted by Smith.
Ten minutes later, Gai Wu’s fightback bore fruit as Pun Wai Yan finally contrived to break the Valley line, with an elegant shimmy taking her past the defence and left of the posts.
Upon Lee’s conversion, the gap between the two sides was at once reduced to 15-14 to Valley.
Confronted with the tantalising prospect of acquainting Valley with an unusual taste of defeat, Gai Wu unfortunately fell short as Valley added an element of measured pragmatism to their game, in contrast to their usual cavalier attacking style.
Smith's quality shone through by converting two further penalties, ensuring that Valley ride out Gai Wu's challenge to prevail 21-14.
Milo was pleased with her team’s first-half performance but saw the weaknesses that allowed Gai Wu to come on strong in the second half.
“We started well, unlike last game. We kept hold of the ball and didn’t make too many mistakes, and that enabled us to maintain the pressure," said Milo.
"Once again, our front five put their hands up and showed their commitment to the team. But we didn’t hunt at the breakdown enough, leaving Gai Wu space to play a lot of fast ball that we couldn’t defend. Then our own line speed was not good enough, which allowed them to press us,” she said.
“Obviously it was a tight game. Their defensive policy was good and that forced us to adjust the way we played.We had to be a little bit smarter, taking the points when there was an opportunity."
For Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu Pang, giving Valley their toughest game of the season was not enough.
“In the second half, we had momentum but made silly mistakes and couldn’t capitalise on it. We controlled the rhythm but our execution was poor, making unforcederrors in the final third,” he said.
“If we set a higher standard for ourselves we could definitely have won this game. It’s down to us how much we want to win. They deserved the win because they capitalised on our mistakes,” he concluded.
In other local results, teams in KPMG National Leagues 1 and 2 relished the chance to bring home silverware every week.
Borelli Walsh USRC Tigers 2 comprehensively defended their KPMG National League 1 Challenge Shield, with a 49-0 win over Transact24 Tai Po Dragons 2. Likewise, SCAA First Pacific CWB Lammergeier retain the KPMG National League 2 Challenge Shield for a second week after overcoming Natixis HKFC Fire 17-0.