Hong Kong’s last game of the Womens Rugby Sevens 2017, and finally a win 15-10 over Belgium who topped the group. Another tournament of untaken opportunities for the home team…
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Interest in women’s rugby has surged since the Olympic games so it’s appropriate that as it turns Twenty, the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens finally gets the recognition the hard working women behind the tournament deserve and becomes a World Series Qualifier.
Why Hong Kong hasn’t been a core tournament on the Women’s World Sevens Series since the outset has been a question no one could/would answer – probably because the men running the HKRU, one of the richest rugby unions in the world, couldn’t see past their massive cash and status generating behemoth of a men’s tournament to even acknowledge that women’s rugby existed and should be funded…
And while this weekend is about Sevens, it needs to be repeated and shouted from our thousands of skyscrapers that the Hong Kong women’s rugby team are going to the World Cup in Ireland later this year. The first and only Hong Kong team ever qualify for a World Cup!!! It’s a massive achievement, and many of the players will be playing in the Women’s Sevens over the next two days at So Kon Po. So take the time, to attend and watch and give them your support. They are modern day heroines!
Twelve teams from the six World Rugby regions will take part in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Qualifier at So Kon Po down the road from the Hong Kong Stadium with winner promoted to the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2017/18.
The participating teams are South Africa and Kenya (Africa), Jamaica (Americas North), Argentina and Colombia (Americas South), Belgium, Italy and The Netherlands (Europe), Papua New Guinea (Oceania) Japan, China and hosts Hong Kong (Asia).
Three of the participants played in the Rio 2016 Olympics: Kenya, Colombia and Japan Belgium, Colombia, Italy and Jamaica are on debut in Hong Kong, bringing the total number of nations to have participated at the HKWR7s to 41 over the past two decades.
Hong Kong coach Anna Richards is excited at the prospect of playing in the Qualifier. “The quality of the teams is great and the opportunity to contest the qualifier at home is all that you could ask for as a coach. It’s added pressure, of course, but also added excitement.”
“Hong Kong is iconic for Sevens, so hosting the women’s qualifier here is great for the development of the game. The more Women’s events that can be played alongside the men’s tournaments the better,” Richards added.
For the first time, and hopefully not the last, the Cup Semi-finals will be played at HK Stadium. Hong Kong has made the semi-finals for the last two years but fell at the final hurdle and missed out on playing in-front of 40,000 home town fans.
Richards has ensured that the squad have had a more active build-up this year with the squad training with the New Zealand Development squad. “New Zealand was really good for us. We wanted to play against some bigger and more physical opposition. And we footed it really well. They had a lot of quality players in the team in New Zealand, including four contracted players and one Olympian, so it was a really good build-up.”
“We were right in there in those matches and I think the girls gained a lot of confidence. If we can play like that, then I would give us a good chance to make a Semi Final,” Richards said. “To advance we will need to finish in the top two in our pool, but we have had a good build-up and the girls are very focused and enter the tournament with a lot of confidence.”
Additional reporting: HK Rugby
After the individual creativity of Art Week, the wonders of team creativity are on display as Rugby Week 2017 gets into full swing. The Women’s 7s gets long overdue recognition as it celebrates twenty years and the Sevens turn 42, remember to bring your towel.
The week starts, after a year’s absence, appropriately on 1 April with the Beach 5s in Repulse Bay which also features netball, football 5s and dodgeball. A relaxing and social way to spend a weekend on the beach.
Then it’s over to King’s Park on Wednesday for KowloonFest where the old and venerable rumble around the pitch and have a lot of fun as their brain sees them sprinting or crashing through the opposition line to score a fantastic try only to find their legs unable to keep up…
While the 7s is all speed and patterns, perhaps the best rugby of the week is at the Hong Kong Tens. With proper scrums and brutal power forward play the Tens features, especially on Thursday night, perhaps the closest we in Hong Kong can get to seeing modern rugby up close and personal. Select teams packed with talent, new and old, from around the world put a physicality and rawness to images seen on television that really has to be experienced in person.
The wonderful HK Women’s Seven celebrates it’s Twentieth Anniversary with recognition by World Rugby and the HK Rugby Union as it becomes a qualifier for the Women’s World Series. If you can’t get a ticket to the Sevens then head to So Kon Po and see the Olympic sport live. Many of the Hong Kong squad will later in the year represent Hong Kong at the Rugby World Cup in Ireland.
The Sevens, amidst the partying a rugby tournament takes place. The quality of the other World Series tournaments has stumbled this year. Will the teams raise their game, or has HK just become another stop on the global money making merry-go-round?
Here are the dates for your diary for what promises to be a fantastic week of sport and fun.
A match featuring the teams that have won the last seven grand championships between them was always going to be willing, but it was Valley who again showed their might.
The victory extended Valley’s undefeated streak to three full seasons and an unbelievable 42 matches as well as handing them their sixth of the past eight grand championships.
“They’re an awesome bunch,” enthused coach James Elliott. “All of them impressed me, but the usual suspects were good – Olivia Coady is a machine, Toto [Cheng], Frenchie [Amelie Seure], our back three were immense. And the backline is class. Obviously Bella [Milo] stands out. To me she is the most talented female rugby player I have seen.”
The heightened pressure of a final was evident early on, with both sides doing their best to settle as the forward packs felt out their opposite numbers. Valley looked livelier to begin with and found the try-line through dynamic back-rower Coady, with fullback Zoe Smith conversion on target the league champions jumped out to an early 7-0 lead.
Despite the early score, it soon became clear that tries were going to be hard to come by as the respective defences marked their territory. Gai Wu’s effort could not be faulted but they struggled to create genuine scoring opportunities, with Valley having all the answers every time their opponents looked to launch an attacking move. Valley pulled further ahead as half-time loomed, with Smith on target with a penalty, 10-0.
The second half was a battle of attrition, with Gai Wu putting it all on the line in an attempt to revive their hopes. The Falcons did the bulk of the attacking in the third quarter, with the period highlighted by some lively work from Chong Ka-yan on the wing.
Valley launched the odd counter, however neither team could trouble the scorers. The slog continued into the last 20 minutes of the match, with Valley wresting back the momentum and driving the Falcons back into their half.
Colleen Tsojvold and Adrienne Garvey battled hard as Valley threatened to cross again and eventually their sustained forward push returned results. Ex-Samoa captain Milo was the beneficiary, with the powerful centre cracking the Falcons line and dotting down to put the result beyond doubt.
“The last five minutes was a bit scrappy, but we had to bring off Karen [So] at prop because of cramp, she’s a Hong Kong front rower so if you bring someone like that off your scrum goes downhill,” Elliot said. “All our players got on the field and we had three 17-year-olds in the squad, so it was a good result.”
Gai Wu were rewarded for their relentless effort in the final minute with a penalty try, ensuring they did not go scoreless. “I’m disappointed with the result but I feel really proud of the girls,” Falcons coach Lai Yiu-pang said. “To play a side with a former Black Fern [Coady] and a former Samoa player [Milo], the girls have never experienced that kind of quality in Hong Kong before.
“We did really well in the second half and our performance showed that we’ve improved a lot. I don’t think any one player stood out, it was a team effort and we deserved to get some points at the end.”
Additional reporting, photos: HK Rugby
The two clubs have dominated women’s rugby in recent seasons, Valley Black and Gai Wu Falcons, will face off in their fourth successive Grand Championship Final at King’s Park (4.30pm). The last seven Grand Finals have seen at least one of the two taking part, with Valley claiming five titles to Gai Wu’s two over that period.
Both clubs have been instrumental in the vast improvement in the skill level and quality of local women’s rugby in recent years and games between the two are tight and fiercely competitive. Valley won the 2016-17 league title with an 8-7 win over Gai Wu on the final weekend – extending their unbeaten run to 40 matches. While last year’s Grand Final was also won by Valley 12-10 with a last-gasp try from ex-New Zealand international Olivia Coady.
In addition to Coady, Saturday’s Grand Final will feature ex-Samoan captain Bella Milo, returning to fitness for Valley, and potentially as many as 20 Hong Kong internationals on the park. “Having so many internationals on the pitch supports the development of women’s rugby in Hong Kong,” said Gai Wu coach Lai Yiu-pang.
After last year’s thriller Lai is again looking forward to putting on a Grand Final for the fans:“It’s going to show off high performance women’s rugby. We need tight games like this. Winning 70-nil or 50-nil, doesn’t help us develop as players or as a team, so I’m looking forward to a close game.”
While a positive for the Hong Kong team, the high number of international players can make life difficult for the coaches. “The players on both teams know each other from national duties. They know each other’s style and strengths,” said Valley coach James Elliot.
“It may be that the side that tries something unexpected on Saturday could make the difference,” Elliot added, while refusing to be drawn on what tricks he may have up his sleeve.
Valley will have its strongest team available with Coady returning to the captaincy after being rested last weekend. The back row of Coady, No.8 Amelie Seure and Toto Cheng has proven devastating this season. “Our regular force is ready – Bella, Olivia, Frenchie [Seure] and Colleen Tjosvold and Adrienne Garvey in the backs are all available,” Elliot said.
The Falcons will be without some key players: Aggie Poon Pak-yan – who fractured a rib in the build-up to this year’s semi-final – scored all of Gai Wu’s points in last year’s Grand Final. While Melody Li Nim-yam is still out after picking up an injury on the sevens team’s tour to New Zealand.
“We just prepare as best we can,” said the placid Lai. “It was our target to return to this match at the beginning of the year and now we’re here. I’m quite optimistic and the team are really looking forward to it,” said Lai.
“This is what Grand Finals are all about, each side giving their all to be the one standing at the end. It’s always about playing 80 minutes, but in a Grand Final, that’s even more true – as we found out last year.”
Prop Cherry Wu, in her first season with Gai Wu, is also out with a dislocated shoulder putting added pressure on the pack to step-up. That battle up front is likely to determine the outcome. Gai Wu have an edge in the tight five, while Valley boasts the most dangerous back row in the league. “We’re looking for quality ball from the pack, especially in the set piece, to create opportunities,” said Lai.
Elliot is confident Valley can snuff out those opportunities:“I expect them to use their forwards quite a bit. But our structures are good, and our defence is strong, especially on the line. We’ve got real strength around the ruck. Our forwards love contact and our backs like to run, so I think it will be a high-intensity match,” he said.
While Gai Wu was lifted by their last battle with Valley, Elliot discounted its impact on the final, saying, “That was a different scenario. We had to be conscious of things like points differential, while Gai Wu was going all-out for tries with the league title on the line.
“They will probably take penalty shots if they’re on offer – and so will we, as both teams have good kickers. In this game, you shouldn’t come away from opportunities without points,” said Elliot. “This time it’s much simpler for both clubs – win at all costs.”