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18th Feburary 2019

Natixis HKFC claim first HK Premiership title since 2011

Natixis HKFC beat USRC Borrelli Walsh Tigers 39-22 in the Saxo Capital Markets Premiership Game of the Week at King’s Park, reported the Hong Kong Rugby Union website. The win seals Club’s first Saxo Capital Markets Premiership league title since 2011 in coach Jack Wiggins’ first season

“It [winning the league] is a testament to the group of players we have; the players that were already here and the players that have come in,” said Wiggins, who will also coach the team at this year’s GFI HKFC 10s from April 3-4.

“We put a little bit more tactical and technical stuff around what they have done before, the boys bought into it and earned the treats now.”

It was touch and go until the final quarter with Club holding on to a 25-22 lead with 20 minutes left before opening the Tigers up down the stretch.

“We knew it would be tough. They have lot of good players and it was a win-or-else situation for them, so they were going to come at us,” Wiggins added.

“It was competitive, we weren’t at our best and I don’t think they were either to be honest; the week off probably hurt both teams.”

Knocking the Lunar New Year rust off contributed to some fireworks with 18 points scored in the first 15 minutes. HKFC claimed 11 of those after a dominant performance in the opening stages set up flyhalf Glyn Hughes for his first penalty opportunity after five minutes. He slotted it to give Club a 3-0 lead.

The lead was increased to eight by Sam Pim in the seventh minute after he was the beneficiary of a 60-metre break from centre Ben Axten-Burrett, who turned the corner on the defence before being brought down at the line. His offload found Pim, supporting the break superbly, who crashed over the line.

Tigers responded magnificently in what was effectively their first possession of the game, driving deep into Club’s red zone behind a lumbering run from prop Dan Barlow. That charge set the stage for Sam Purvis to score their first try in the 11th minute after the winger came off his line looking for work.

Flyhalf Robbie Keith’s conversion was good, closing the gap to 8-7, but only momentarily, as Hughes capped off an attack from the re-start with a drop goal to extend Club’s lead to 11-7.

Battling to qualify for the Grand Championships, Tigers refused to lie down and worked their way patiently back into the match, shifting momentum their direction in the second quarter. They created several opportunities only to have their accuracy desert them at key times.

In the 22nd minute, Tigers were able to eventually work the ball into kickable territory with Keith’s penalty pulling Tigers to within a point, down 11-10.

Club’s forward pack was immense, pressurising the Tigers into conceding two penalty tries from try-line scrums, one in each half. Club also dominated the re-start, reclaiming the ball on their first three kick-offs of the half.

“Our scrum wasn’t very good at the start of the season, but we invested time and energy and did more work in training there. Today proved how far we have come in that area, so that’s really pleasing,” Wiggins noted.

The pressure up front forced Tigers into conceding numerous penalties in the closing minutes of the first half, helping Club compile a steady march into the Tigers 22-metre line. Hughes missed an early penalty attempt on the drive and poked a second kickable chance to the corner for the attacking lineout.

Club controlled the ball well and were awarded a series of scrums on the try-line, which resulted in the referee awarding the first penalty try shortly before half-time as Club extended its lead to 18-10.

Matters worsened for Tigers moments later with a sin-binning for Barlow, another key momentum swing on half-time, and a warning sign for Tigers, considering Club’s penchant for opening up their opponents in the second stanza.

Tigers staved off Club’s attacks for the reminder of the half and nearly scored the first points of the second after a fiery start. While they could not complete the final pass that would have given them a short-handed score, Tigers held Club from growing its lead with a strong defensive effort.

Their efforts eventually contributed to Tigers’ second try soon after Barlow’s return with lock Craig Lodge using his lanky frame on the line to good effect with an extended arm score closing the gap to 18-15 with 30 minutes left.

Tigers allowed a tit-for-tat reprisal moments later after a defensive breakdown on the ensuing play allowed winger Sebastian Visinia to finish a two-on-one out wide as Club extended its lead to 25-15 after the conversion.

The final quarter was a wide-open affair with both sides throwing the ball around with abandon in an entertaining if not accurate display. The game opened up further after Pim was sin-binned in the 60th minute.

Tigers capitalised on the extra space with a captains’ try from No.8 Josh Hrstich who, along with Sam Purvis, shone for Tigers. Keith’s conversion brought Tigers to within three, 25-22, with 15 minutes left.

With Pim back on the park, Football Club earned the next scoring opportunity again in prime position with a scrum on the Tigers try-line. The inexorable pressure saw a second penalty try awarded as Club extended the lead first to 32-22, and then in the final minute to 39-22, after reserve Ben Willis scored sealing the 39-22 win, and the Premiership league title, for Club.

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