11th Mar 2024

The Hong Kong China Rugby representative sevens squads climbed the table of the HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series in Montevideo this weekend after the second of three qualifying events for a spot on the HSBC SVNS series. 


Hong Kong, China’s men’s team reached the final to move into fifth place on the 12-team table, while the women beat Kenya for a second time on the weekend to climb from tenth to eighth in the overall standings.  The top four teams from the Challenger competitions will join a play-off at the HSBC SVNS in Madrid to determine spots on next season’s HSBC SVNS.  


Hong Kong were beaten in the final by hosts Uruguay, 28-0, while the women won the seventh place play-off against Kenya, 27-22.


Despite the hurdles against Uruguay, it was a clutch performance for the men’s seven, who had failed to fire in the Series opener in Dubai and entered Montevideo in seventh place.  Only the top four advance to the promotion play-off in Spain this spring so Hong Kong had to perform – and had to travel to the other side of the world to do it.


The outing impressed even the typically stoic management team.


“I am really pleased with how we performed this weekend. Coming in some of us thought that reaching the playoff might be out of reach after the opening tournament, but the boys really showed up. That was some of the best rugby that we have played in some time in a tournament of that level,” said Hong Kong men’s sevens coach Jevon Groves. 


“We are disappointed in the final, but I think we have taken some good learnings from it. The boys really enjoyed their appearance here, which was great because South America has not been a happy hunting ground for us previously.”


The saving throw in Uruguay keeps Hong Kong in contention to finish in the top four of the HSBC World Rugby Challenger series and earn a spot in the promotion-relegation play-off at the Madrid Sevens later this year.  


Hong Kong beat Kenya 21-14 in the semi-final with Cado Lee scoring a brace.  Hugo Stiles’ conversions gave Hong Kong an early 14-0 lead before Kenya replied to bring the score to 14-7.  Forward Callum McCullough’s second try of the weekend pushed Hong Kong out to 21-7, which Kenya cut to 21-14 at the final hooter, but Hong Kong had booked its first finals appearance of the 2024 Challenger.


“We played very well against Kenya. That win built our confidence from the first couple of days. We stuck to what we wanted to do in breaking up their tempo, and scored some nice tries. We worked hard to break their fast and loose style; Kenya have some big men and they run hard, so our boys worked hard in defence to contain that.,” said Groves.


Hong Kong’s hopes were dashed early on in the final with Uruguay scoring from the kick-off, before adding three further tries as they shut out Hong Kong for a second time in 2024.  What could be a serious ankle injury for captain Seb Brien compounded matters as he left the field early on.

“Uruguay are very very experienced in these games. We talked about starting quick, but at home the passion and emotion of Uruguay was a bit too much. We really want to focus on starting well in environments like that, but they scored right away. The final was a bit disappointing in that we got off script and were not able to execute under pressure.


“But we learned a lot from the final. We learned a lot from the weekend and we learned a lot about the players and squad. Now we can put these learnings to good use in Hong Kong next month and in Munich in May [ed: site of the final Challenger Men’s competition],” Groves added.


Hong Kong, China are now ranked 5th on the 2024 Challenger standings after two tournaments, level on points with fourth-ranked Germany (26) but with an -8 points differential separating the two sides.  Germany will have an edge when they host the Challenger finale in Munich in May.


Hong Kong, China’s women’s team put the disappointment of being narrowly eliminated from the Cup competition behind them to beat Kenya for a second time this weekend to grab seventh place.


Hong Kong won 27-22 behind a natural hat trick from Chong Ka Yan whose three tries were only met with one reply as Hong Kong jumped out to a 17-5 lead.  Kenya maintained their composure to whittle the margin back to 17-15 at one point, but Hong Kong again pulled clear with tries from Julia Mba Oyana and Nam Ka Man giving them a comfortable 27-15 lead with seconds remaining.  Kenya scored a consolation try to close the margin to five points at 27-22 but time ran out on their fight back.


The successful weekend for the women saw them climb from tenth place to eighth place in the standings, one behind Thailand.  China women continue to dominate the Challenger.  They won their second straight Cup and dominate the  table with a perfect 40 points from two events.


Hong Kong, China Men’s Seven for World Rugby Challenger Series (Montevideo):  Seb BRIEN (Captain); James CHRISTIE; Max DENMARK; Liam DOHERTY; FONG Kit-Fung; Liam HERBERT; LEE Ka-to, Cado; Callum McCULLOUGH; Alessandro NARDONI; Bryn PHILLIPS; Harry SAYERS; Hugo STILES.


Hong Kong, China Women’s Sevens Squad for World Rugby Challenger Series (Montevideo):  Natasha OLSON-THORNE (Captain); AU YEUNG Sin Yi; BALTAZAR, Chloe; BALTAZAR, Micayla; CHAN Tsz Ching; CHONG Ka Yan; FORREST, Shanna; FUNG Hoi Ching, Jasmine; NAM Ka Man; Julia MBA OYANA; POON Hoi Yan, Vivian; Gabriella RIVERS.