Local women’s rugby players prepare for the two most important games in Hong Kong’s rugby history as national coach Jo Hull prepares her Hong Kong squad for the World Rugby Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifier.
The triangular tournament sees Japan and Fiji taking part with the two top-placed finishers advancing to next year’s World Cup in Ireland. Hong Kong will play Fiji on 9 December (7pm) at King’s Park and Japan on 17 December (4:30pm) at Hong Kong Football Club.
With the top two teams advancing, a win over Fiji would be a huge step toward Hong Kong qualifying for its first ever fifteen-a-side rugby World Cup but Hull cautions that Hong Kong will still need to find another gear to achieve what would be a transformative result for the local women’s game.
“It is an amazing opportunity to qualify and have a chance to play in a World Cup. Our job as a national team is to inspire and connect with young girls and women. We want them to aspire to play for Hong Kong and to do that you need to put up some performances,” Hull said.
With those performances in mind, Hong Kong finalised a build-up campaign that was unprecedented in its scale and intensity, with two matches against Kazakhstan last month. Hong Kong won both.
“I was pleased with the Kazakhstan games, but we still need to play 20 percent better against Fiji to get the result we’re after. Kazakhstan are good and playing against them showed us we still have some things to work on to be ready for the coming matches, particularly, our commitment in the tackle area against bigger players and that is something we are focusing on,” Hull noted.
Hull said that while there were significant positives, the challenge is set to intensify: “The Qualifiers represents a level that the girls have never played at before. We need players who will go into battle and I think we have the right combination with some new, young players coming through plus experienced players like the sevens girls and our forwards group.”
“But we’re under no illusion that we’re the finished article. Our job is to keep getting better and that’s what we’re all about; we’re not going to be content with average performances,” Hull said.
Hull is confident she has the players to achieve this singular sporting feat in her 26-woman squad, which is notable for the absence of some longstanding Hong Kong representatives.
“There are some top-class players not selected and I think that is both a credit to the players coming through and also partially because of the style we want to play. We need players who can get in amongst it, play with a lot of tempo and heart, and are skilful and can withstand the pressure ahead.”
Despite the absence of some multi-capped players, Hull has been able to select a highly experienced group with 25 of the 26-person squad capped previously, including 21 players from the Tour of Spain last December and the Asia Rugby Championship earlier this year.
Hull is most pleased with the process that has been put in place to get the team to this point: “I’ve seen a huge turnaround in women’s rugby since I arrived 18 months ago. At a national level, we have grown from a six-week to a 10-month programme, with regular analysis and a big emphasis on strength and conditioning. The players have really bought into that and I think we are starting to see the first glimpses of results now,” Hull noted.
“I’m pleased with the 26 we have got. We started with 40 players and made some tough decisions along the way and we’re really proud of our selection process, which has been very thorough.”
“Accountability is at the forefront of everything we are doing. Every one of those 26 players know that they have to keep performing, otherwise someone else is taking their spot,” Hull said.
Hull has incorporated 12 members of the Hong Kong Sevens team into the squad, injecting their professional-class speed and fitness into the equation, while also bringing a dose of much-needed experience playing against world-class women’s teams; all essentials if Hong Kong hope to step up against the likes of Fiji and Japan.
Inspirational second-rower Chow Mei-nam will again captain the side, leading an experienced group of forwards who will be called upon to do some heavy lifting in what is expected to be a physical contest with Fiji in the opener.
“Mei Nam is now in her second year of captaining the team. She leads by example in everything she does, on and off the pitch,” said Hull.
“Against Kazakhstan she had the highest positive involvement across both games, which is exactly what you want from your captain and really shows how she leads by example. She has only been playing for three years and continues to improve every game, which epitomises our team philosophy,” Hull added.
Jessica Ho Wai-on is the only uncapped player included in the 26-woman squad. The fiery young scrumhalf is likely to earn her first cap against Fiji, either starting or off the bench, as she complements Lindsay Varty, the second scrumhalf in the squad.
Hull, who has coached with Scotland at previous World Cups, believes this group of players has what it takes to get to the next level and will produce a performance that will make Hong Kong proud.
“Going to a World Cup is an experience you will never replicate in any other part of your life. When and if we get there, these girls will give their heart and soul to every minute of that and that is all that you can ask of them,” Hull said.
Hong Kong Squad, Women’s Rugby World Cup Qualifier
Chow Mei-Nam (Captain), Amelie Seure^, Chan Ka-Yan, Chan Leong-Sze^, Chan Tsz-Ching, Cheng Ching-To, Cheng Ka-Chi, Cheung Shuk-Han, Christine Gordon^, Lau Nga-Wun, Lee Ka-Shun, Melody Li Nim-Yan^, Winnie Siu Wing-Ni, Karen So Hoi-Ting, Wong Yuen-Shan, Adrienne Garvey^, Chong Ka-Yan^, Colleen Tjosvold^, Jessica Ho Wai-On*, Rose Hopewell-Fong, Ivy Kwong Sau-Yan^, Lau Sze-Wa, Lee Tsz-Ting^, Lindsay Varty^, Natasha Olson-Thorne^, Yuen Lok-Yee^.
^ HKSI elite Sevens athlete; * potential Hong Kong debut
Additional reporting and image: Takumi Photography, HKRU