10 Nov 2019

It was a brave and exciting performance by the women’s sevens team of Hong Kong, China as they reached the final of the 2020 Olympic qualifiers in Guangzhou. Ultimately, that effort fell short, as Hong Kong’s run for the Asia one spot in Tokyo was stopped in the cup final by an imperious China seven, 33-0.

Overnight, coach Iain Monaghan had guaranteed more complete performances and his side delivered, topping Korea 47-0 in the final pool game before beating Kazakhstan, 19-7, in the cup semi final. That result not only booked their place in the final, but secured a spot in the international repechage tournament for the 12th and final team in 2020, keeping Hong Kong’s Olympic dream alive.

China entered the final after blitzing Thailand in the semi, 34-0, bringing their total points scored on the weekend to 180, against just seven - scored by Hong Kong in yesterday’s pool clash, a 42-7 China win.

Despite having a squad that featured three effective new caps, two of which are just 17 years old, Hong Kong were eager to face China again, saying, “We have worked hard to put ourselves in this position and are not going to be content with second,” ahead of the final.

He also dismissed the pressure reliever of securing the repechage spot saying, “We haven’t even spoken about that. We are here fully intent on qualifying for Tokyo. We have positioned ourselves at the foot of the mountain and now we have to make the ascent,” he added.

In the showcase game, the learning curve proved too steep for Hong Kong as China extended a 12-0 lead at the break into a final 33-0 victory, with Hong Kong conceding a few late tries to distort the score line. China claimed its spot in Tokyo as Asia one, joining hosts Japan at the 2020 Games.

Monaghan was disappointed in the loss, but proud of the team’s performance: “I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the effort of the entire squad and extremely proud of them all. We went toe to toe with China but didn’t get the bounce of the ball we needed to create or sustain our momentum. Sport is cruel and fair play to China, they are a very good team, but [assistant coach] Will Webster has done a lot with our team defence; it’s not perfect but it is coming along in the right direction.

“We can hold our heads up high. We have a young group that is in pursuit of excellence and while there were some teary eyes after the final, they understand we are on a journey and that not all teams get to the top by winning, it takes a lot of losing as well.

“They understand their potential now and we will come back stronger,” he vowed.

While the road to Tokyo takes a detour, Monaghan knows the odds have lengthened. “There will be a lot of excellent teams at the repechage, but now we have another competition to focus on and prepare for, and another chapter to write.”

Having witnessed the promising debuts of his young tyros, it becomes clearer why Monaghan views the qualifier as one step on a longer journey for Hong Kong. The next generation came to the fore today, starting with the opener versus Korea when they repaid Monaghan’s trust in turning to them early on by scoring five tries in the rout.

Anna Birkett collected her second and third tries on her senior Asian debut in the first half, converting both, before Chloe Chan, who debuted in September, added a natural brace of her own, scoring on either side of half time. Fellow September debutant Florence Symonds added a try before the final whistle, with Nam Ka-Man’s effort before that representing the veterans as Hong Kong ran out 47-0 winners. Chan and Symonds would both start against Kazakhstan and China, with Birkett providing offensive punch off the bench.

China bested Sri Lanka, 55-0, in its final pool match to advance as top seeds against Thailand in the cup semi-final, while Hong Kong met Kazakhstan.

The two sides had traded blows on the Asian series in two successive third place matches, splitting the results, but Kazakhstan faced a different looking Hong Kong today. With its new weapons being unlocked expertly by the squad’s experienced campaigners, Hong Kong proved too much for Kazakhstan, turning in a total team performance in a 19-7 win.

Hong Kong forced Kazakhstan into early mistakes as they handed key attacking opportunities over. On one of these, Chong Ka-yan’s neat short ball to Chloe Chan opened the second level of the defence, leading to a Nam Ka-man score after two minutes and a 7-0 lead. Chong was as influential as ever in the semi, in the thick of every breakdown and turning up game-saving tackles before scoring her fourth try of the weekend to push Hong Kong’s lead to 12-0.

Kazakhstan broke Hong Kong’s defensive line early in the second half, clawing their way to 12-7, but were foiled thereafter by a complete defensive effort. Frustrated, they reverted to a physical style that produced five penalties, three for high tackles – with the last leading to a late yellow card. Symonds made them pay when she found space down the touchline for a breakaway try, finished off with a massive fend of the flailing defender to put Hong Kong home 19-7 and book a spot in the final.

HKRU Women’s Sevens Squad; 2020 Olympic Qualifiers, Guangzhou (9-10 Nov. 2019):

Melody LI Nim-yan (Captain); Natasha OLSON-THORNE; CHONG Ka-yan; SHAM Wai-sum; NAM Ka-man; Jessica HO Wai-on; Vivian POON; Maggie AU YEUNG; Agnes CHAN; Chloe CHAN; Florence SYMONDS; Anna BIRKETT*. *HK debut