05 Nov 2019

The Hong Kong, China women’s sevens squad has been named for this weekend’s Olympic qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Hong Kong are second seeds in Pool A in the Qualifier on 9-10 November 2019 at the Guangzhou University Town Sports Centre Stadium, with the winner earning automatic entry to next summer’s Games.

Coach Iain Monaghan introduced a 14-strong squad today at the Hong Kong Sports institute; the final 12 will be named on the eve of the tournament. Hong Kong is in Pool A with hosts China, Sri Lanka and South Korea, while Kazakhstan, Thailand, Singapore and Philippines comprise Pool B.

Hong Kong play Sri Lanka (14.44) on Saturday, before a pivotal clash with China in the day’s finale at 18.00. Sunday’s last pool match is with South Korea (9.44), with knock out competition starting at 12.30. The pool leaders will crossover with the second best team from the other bracket in the cup semi-finals, meaning Hong Kong needs to finish at least runners-up in the pool to keep its Olympic dream alive.

Having been working towards this day since he arrived in January, Monaghan is confident in his side: “It was a difficult selection, with everyone fighting for places, but we have put together a team with a good blend of youth and experience. We’re more balanced now with power, skill and speed across the team, and that affords us a lot of opportunity in our attack and defence.

“The girls have taken a page from South Africa at the Rugby World Cup. South Africa does not always show their best but perform in the big moments. We know we have the potential to compete with anyone - and now we have an opportunity to show it,” said Monaghan.

Hong Kong travelled to Canada last month, where they played against the national team and development squads in a nine-day training camp that met objectives, with coaches and players alike praising the tour for providing clarity and confidence.

“Canada was a perfect opportunity to implement the final pieces of our game plan and our philosophy, and test that against world class players. One of the biggest things for me was seeing the stage our young players are at in comparison to theirs, it shows our age grade programmes are really working.”

That experience provided a boost for the selection of three emerging players, the latest in a wave of National Age Grade and academy graduates that are transforming women’s rugby in Hong Kong.

Monaghan debuted three new players on the recently concluded Asian sevens series, with two, Florence Symonds and Chloe Chan, named for the Qualifier. A third player, 17-year old schoolgirl Anna Birkett, has also been included after impressing in Canada, with the potential to earn a first senior cap in one of Hong Kong’s biggest rugby moments.

“The feedback from the senior players and team management has been hugely positive. It’s not been seamless getting the new girls fitted in, but credit to everyone because there has been a lot of hard work done to get them ready.

“They add energy and expand our capabilities, and their inclusion has an effect on the wider squad. Everyone knows they have to up their game, because others are chasing. That brings out the best in players individually and the team as a whole.”

Monaghan has ensconced that youthful energy in a core of experience, with battle hardened campaigners like captain Melody Li, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Sham Wai-sum, Chong Ka-yan, Nam Ka-man and Jessica Ho providing leadership and support on and off the pitch. The group includes four veterans of the last tilt for qualification, with Olson-Thorne, Sham, Chong and Nam present in 2015.

“We have some seasoned campaigners with Rugby World Cup experience, players who know big moments and bring a lot of leadership. That leadership is hugely important for us in game, to unlock our speed and power and help us capitalise on our abilities.”

With some surprises yet to spring, Monaghan likes Hong Kong’s chances: “100% belief in the girls and their ability to show who we are. These past ten months have shown we can compete against anyone; there have been some tough learnings, and we have scars to show for it, but they know they can do it.

“Each has grown as a player and a young woman. It is a hugely exciting time for rugby, especially in the women’s game and the players understand that there is a movement going on. Now, we want to be trailblazers and make history of our own.

“As a team, we value learning and improvement. This competition will provide another experience to learn and grow from. This is a key element of our journey, but it is just one step on that journey, it’s not the end point.

“We are hugely excited to be in the position to go out and show how far we have come and to pay tribute to all the work that has done by coaches and players that have come before us, and everyone who has supported us along the way.

“But no matter what happens, this is just the start of our journey,” added Monaghan, who will be hoping that that voyage takes them through Tokyo next summer.



HKRU Women’s Sevens Squad (14 Players); 2020 Olympic Qualifiers, Guangzhou (9-10 Nov. 2019):

Melody Blessing 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*; Agnes TSE; LEE Tsz-ting.

* Potential HK debut