08 Nov 2018

The Hong Kong Rugby Union’s women’s national team has departed for its Autumn tour of Spain and Wales.  Hong Kong will play test matches against Spain on Sunday, 11 November in Alicante, and against Wales on Friday, 16 November, at Cardiff Arms Park in Wales.

The selectors have tipped a young side with 14 new caps on tour, as Hong Kong Rugby casts an eye towards qualification for the 2021 Rugby World Cup, after reaching its first ever world championship in 2017.

A number of up and coming players are included with a healthy intake of graduates of the HKRU’s National Age Grade programmes.  That opportunity to season players for the future is particularly appealing for HKRU Women’s Performance Manager and Hong Kong coach Jo Hull.

“In my perspective, this is the squad that should be together for the next milestone of Hong Kong Rugby. These are the players we need and now we need to give them time to work together, introduce them to the performance environment and get them that exposure, together as a team, to grow and develop.

“It is our first international outing since the Rugby World Cup and a chance to showcase our new players and expose them to that level of rugby, which is what we need to do for future World Cup qualification.

“These are the players that need to gain that experience. To get it, we have to play against the best and we have to put ourselves into test match environments, as early on as possible,” Hull added.

With the large number of debutants, the senior leadership group will have some heavy lifting to do. That task will fall to new captain Karen So and the leadership of Rugby World Cup 2017 veterans like Natasha Olson-Thorne, Melody Li, Lau Nga-wun and Chong Ka-yan.

“The veterans stepping up will be huge for us, but even though they are veterans for us, they are still young and a bit inexperienced compared to other teams at this level. They need to lead the team now and we’ve asked them to take more ownership and to foster and bring the younger players on.” 

Amongst the plethora of new caps are some recent U20s programme graduates in centres Grace Hood and Sarah Lucas.  Both of them have spent significant time in Hong Kong’s age grade systems and were included in the senior tour to Perth, Australia earlier this year.

After training with the national squad over the summer, Hood returned to Bath University at the start of the school term but is meeting up directly with the squad in Europe for the upcoming tests.

“Both of them are, I think, future players for Hong Kong and we are keen to give them a go and see how they get on in a test match environment,” Hull said.

Lucas is one of many newcomers in the squad that have been proving their mettle domestically in the KPMG Premiership where she has had some impressive outings for USRC Tigers.

“It’s good to see that we’re starting to get players in from a variety of clubs. We are particularly excited about a contingent of players from Kowloon and are looking forward to see how Vincci [Leung Win-yi] from Tai Po Dragons handles the environment,” said Hull.

Leung is one of several new tight five forwards in the squad, alongside Kowloon prop Yip Cho Kwan and lock Amber Tsang.  Gai Wu prop Lam Ka-wi and lock Chau Man-huen, Causeway Bay lock Tsang Ching-man and hooker Charlotte Myrans from Tigers are other new faces in the tight five, as Hong Kong builds historic depth in the engine room.

A couple of the new faces are familiar from the sevens circuit, including emerging star Stephanie Chan, who broke into the sevens squad last season.  Amber Tsang is another sevens squad member being given a chance to add a fifteens cap to her sevens selections on tour.

Now a part of the fifteens training squad as well, Hull believes Chan has a lot to offer in the longer code.

“She is new to the fifteens programme, but she’s been on our radar for several years. She transferred to Gai Wu this season and really is a player that has emerged off of the back of training and playing hard at club level, before she started to shine at sevens.

“She offers us a lot of versatility in terms of her pace and her decision-making in attack, and her footwork. We’re looking at her across a few positions as she gives us a lot of strike power and pace.”

With two challenging but contrasting matches ahead and a group that will need to gel under fire on the continent, Hull is realistic about the short-term expectations from the Tour.

“A huge goal is just to spend as much time together as we can. A lot of our players have full-time jobs. They can’t always focus on our professional environment full-time. The tour gives us a chance to immerse everyone in a high performance environment, to come together as a team and to develop as people as well, all of which will hopefully come together on the pitch.”

“Our time together has been very focused, because it is so limited. But overall, the group has come together very well. Our training has been focused on the needs of the games, and how we think that Spain and Wales will play and what we have seen from them in previous matches.

“Spain will be fast, with a lot of sevens influence, and will want to play a counterattacking game. They love to counter. Wales are a strong team, more structured probably than Spain and they have talent all over the field, from forwards to the backs,” Hull said.

Hull believes that Hong Kong stacks up well against their opponents

“We have different focuses going into each game. A big thing we have been working on is our ability to play at a higher game speed, to withstand the intensity of test rugby. That is the biggest challenge for us, and our set piece and playing against physically stronger teams.

“What we do well is in the intensity of our play. What this group will need to harness is that experience and exposure to international rugby from these games, what to do in different scenarios and situations, when the game is going against us or if we are winning and need to close it out.

“We aren’t expecting or needing a miracle on tour, or to get it right all of the time, but we are expecting the squad to come together and show the potential to keep them together and grow and nurture this group of players.”

Hong Kong squad (26 pax) for Autumn Tests (Spain, Wales, Nov 2018)

FORWARDS: Karen SO Hoi-ting (Captain), AU YEUNG Sin-yi*, CHAN Ka-yan, CHAU Man-huen*, LAM Ka-Wai*, LAU Nga-wun, Vincci LEUNG Wing-yi*, Melody LI Nim-yan, Charlotte MYRANS*, PUN Wai-yan, Winnie SIU Wing-ni, TSANG Ching-man*, Amber TSANG Wing-chi*, YIP Cho-kwan*.  BACKS: Stephanie CHAN Chor-ki*, CHENG Lok-tung*, CHONG Ka-yan, Jessica EDEN*, Jessica HO Wai-on, LAU Sze-wa, Sarah LUCAS*, Grace HOOD*, MAK Ho-yee, Natasha OLSON-THORNE, YUEN Lok-yee, Bena YU Bo-yan*.

* Potential first caps