Pulling on the shirt, taking a cap to represent your country is a special moment in anyone’s sporting life. Winning tournaments and trophies are regarded as success in sport today, where it’s the winning not the taking part that has become all. But their can be no higher honour in any sport than to Captain your country. To join that elite band of people who can take the hopes, desires and expectations of a nation upon their shoulders at the same time as uniting team-mates to perform better than the sum of their individual skills while still giving their personal all.
Natasha Olson-Thorne Captain’s Hong Kong for the first time at this her sixth Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens (HKWRS) and coach Anna Richards is confident the 23-year-old winger will handle the added responsibility with aplomb.
“She works really hard and sets a really good example for the rest of the team,” Richards said. “She’s got a good rugby brain as well, so I think she will be able to handle it very well.”
Olson-Thorne has been a crucial part of the Hong Kong backline in the sevens format for a long time and boasts experience that belies her age. She made her international sevens debut in Hong Kong in 2011 and has filled the vice-captaincy slot on a number of occasions, including during last year’s Asia Rugby Sevens Series and Olympic qualifiers.
Olson-Thorne also skippered a Hong Kong development squad at the Margaret River Sevens early last year and is hopeful that, with a few tweaks to her game, she has what is takes to lead by example.
“I probably have to be a bit more vocal and I need to make sure I keep lifting the team up so we’re in the right spot and in the right frame of mind,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting. I’m excited about it. I’m just hoping I can keep the team on the right track going in to the Sevens.”
Olson-Thorne, who was born in the US but has spent 22 of her 23 years in Hong Kong, is plucky about the chances of the side she will lead and hopes that good early form will give Hong Kong the momentum they need to improve on last year’s semi-final loss. “Obviously our goal is to get into the stadium this year,” she said.
“We’re feeling quite positive going in and we’re excited as well because it’s our first tournament of this year. We want to start strong on day one like we did last year. We are looking forward to going in with all guns blazing and smashing it.”
Ahead of her sixth HKWRS, Olson-Thorne is wary of the challenge that awaits and is ready to embrace the opportunity to play against some quality opposition.
This year’s tournament features ten teams from across the globe. Hong Kong are in Pool B with Asia champions Japan, Argentina, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Pool A sees France, South Africa, Kazakhstan, China and Kenya. Both France and Japan are playing on this season’s World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
“One thing I really like about the Hong Kong Sevens is that we’ve got France and South Africa coming, we have Argentina coming, we have Kenya coming, so there’s a lot of countries that we usually don’t get a chance to play against that come and play in the Hong Kong Women’s Sevens,” she said.
“It’s just nice to play against someone different, someone with a different style, and that really helps you to learn and develop.”
Olson-Thorne first developed her love for rugby at the age of 15 at Sha Tin College after trying her hand at a number of other sports and quickly progressed from there to club rugby with the Flying Kukris.
The Flying Kukris’ lack of numbers at under 19 level saw her move to Borrelli Walsh URSC Tigers, with her Hong Kong 15s debut coming in 2010.
Throughout the journey, Olson-Thorne has never struggled for motivation: “The reason that I play rugby is that it’s fun and I enjoy it,” she said. “I’ve always had a lot of sports in my family. My teammates motivate me as well. You can’t play for a team that you don’t like.”
With an older sister and an older brother, as well as a younger brother, sport and family have gone hand-in-hand for Olson-Thorne and the HKWRS presents a unique opportunity.
“It’s the one time when we get to play at home in front of a home crowd,” Olson-Thorne said. “It’s awesome being able to play in front of my family and friends.” Outside of being a professional rugby player, Olson-Thorne is a qualified Divemaster and, after completing a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Health at The University of Hong Kong last year.
“When I’m not doing rugby now, I’m pretty much at home with my family and my cat just relaxing and having fun,” she said. “I do want to pursue further education and try and get a masters degree. I also love scuba diving, so I might try and take that up again when I’ve got a bit more time. I don’t really have a plan at the moment, I’m just kind of seeing how it goes at the moment.”
Hong Kong Women’s Sevens Squad
Natasha Olson-Thorne (captain), Candy Cheng, Tsz Ting (vice-captain), Chong Ka Yan, Adrienne Garvey, Christine Gordon, Colleen Tjosvold, Kwong Sau Yan, Melody Li Nim Yan, Lee Tsz Ting, Nam Ka Man, Poon Pak Yan, Lindsay Varty.
Coach: Anna Richards, Asst. Coach: Mark Komar, Manager: Dannii Cheung