07th Jun 2024

With the successful conclusion of the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2024 last weekend, in which Hong Kong China women’s team placed second and secured the crucial WXV3 qualification that kept Rugby World Cup 2025 ambitions alive, HKCR General Manager of Performance Rugby, Jo Hull, discusses how important this Championship was for the squad, for program development and for future-proofing the women’s game.

“Against a team like the Japanese women, I thought we were gutsy and physical and it was important for the team and program that they performed well against Japan,” said Hull. The Sakura XV were the 29-12 winners, but Hong Kong China made them work in all departments. The match was probably closer than most anticipated, considering it was the first time Hong Kong China had faced the Japanese since the Rugby World Cup in 2017.

“They have increased their resources, and the Japanese women’s program has risen from four annual test matches to seeing them play 10 tests per year and also playing regular first-tier nations,” added Hull. In June 2024, just a few weeks after defending their ARWC title by beating Kazakhstan in their second match, the Japanese head to Fiji for a two-match tour. 

Jo Hull feels the fixture was important to see where Hong Kong China are in terms of measuring our resources against a higher-tiered team.

She added that the series, which included the important 22-0 win over Kazakhstan to claim the runner-up position and the rewards that came with it, “tested out new combinations for us, and we managed to give debut caps to a few players. In that squad, many of the players have five caps or less, and it is a reflection of how the team is evolving and what more we can achieve with this young group.”

Hull also pointed out that the Hong Kong China XVs program is still not fully professional, and hard decisions were made with the inclusion of the Sevens players missing out on the final leg of the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024, but Kazakhstan are a full-time professional XVs women’s outfit.

The General Manager of Performance Rugby was also particularly proud of how key leaders stood up in that important Kazakhstan match and singled out a couple of players such as Georgia Rivers and Roshini Turner, but added that across the team there were standouts.

“Tactically we played well, especially considering how much the women's game has moved on in terms of intensity and the conditioning required of the players. I’m pleased with those aspects, and if you look at the 9-10-12 positions they are all young leaders. Even our tighthead prop is only 21, so we are future-proofing the women's program moving forward.”

On the level of the ARWC, Hull is happy with the three national teams and how they work together for mutually beneficial opportunities, but playing more international tests against different opposition is a goal. 

“We need to increase the number of international test matches for our women and men. We will keep looking for other international opportunities, and we have looked at possibly merging with Oceania and other regions, but these need to be aligned at the right time. Otherwise, we are in danger of the three unions in the ARWC standing still – and we can't all just rely on playing the same opposition. 

HKCR Ambitions in Women’s XVs Rugby

“As a Union, we have ambitions in 7s and XVs rugby,” stated Hull. The timing of the 2024 WXV will offer more headaches for the management to work through as it takes place at the same time as some of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series legs, which are still important for Hong Kong China to qualify for next season's Challenger.

Hull explains, “How do we manage that, and where do key players fit in, especially with this pathway to RWC 2025 and 2029? This is also about developing sustainable pathways, and that starts locally with the investment into the domestic premiership and clubs. The announcement of the seven full-time coaching officer positions is one of the most significant steps in women’s rugby we have seen in Hong Kong in my opinion.”

As Hull described, these coaching roles will allow them to work with the players day-to-day and from the junior through to the senior sides to ensure the pathways and development are working.

She added, “We want the best women’s domestic XVs league in Asia, and I am not shy from saying that; it means our representative teams can better perform on the world stage. We need to grow the strength and depth of the women's pathway for the Rugby World Cup qualifications and manage players to ensure we are doing right by them and the program.”

In preparations for ARWC, the women also embarked on two camps: one with the Brumbies in Australia and one with the JRFU in Japan.

Hull said of those, “The touring camps were really important, especially as the players are not all full-time professionals. It allows time to bond aside from pitch training sessions and offers the training stimulus and different challenges which are critical to improve and develop.” 

She says that the relationship between the Brumbies and HKCR is strong and hugely beneficial, as well as being cost-effective to allow the team to spend time together. 

“This needs to go hand-in-hand, as I feel it is as important as test match preparation and an important time for coaches and players to spend time together and compete against teams in a professional environment,” added Hull. “We need to be innovative and use our time wisely.”

Planning for WXV 3 2024

The reward for the Hong Kong China XVs women is participating in WXV 3 in Dubai, with at least three matches to be played across consecutive weekends in September and October 2024.

The exact WXV match schedule and ticketing information are still to be confirmed by World Rugby, but Hong Kong China could face any of the already qualified Netherlands, Samoa, Fiji, Madagascar and one more to be confirmed.

“We have four months of preparation, and the key focus is prioritising what the players and coaches can do. We will have to face new teams at a high level if you think of Fiji and Samoa, so it's about us refining what we do to face the challenge at that level, especially the technical elements with the set pieces and scrum. The strength and conditioning will also be huge.”

To be confirmed at a later date, but all qualified WXV teams are also guaranteed two preparation tests, which will allow the coaches and players to fine-tune for the tournament in Dubai.

Our Asia Rugby Championship match previews and reports are posted in collaboration with our good friends RugbyAsia247 – check them out for all the latest Asia Rugby news!