26th Nov 2015

The Hong Kong Rugby Union Women’s Sevens squad departs today for Tokyo, Japan where they will play in this weekend’s final leg of Asia Rugby’s Olympic qualification process.

One women’s team from Asia will automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after the completion of the tournament on 29 November.

For the women, what once looked like a goal for 2020 is now a real - albeit slim - possibility for the 2016 Olympics after Hong Kong made a dramatic statement on the Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Series this season, winning the opening tournament in China and maintain its spot near the top of the leaderboard.

Hong Kong has established itself as a threat to the reigning superpowers of Asian women’s rugby: Japan, China and Kazakhstan - over the preceding months, and have now parlayed that into a chance for Olympic qualification this weekend.

Hong Kong finished third in the opening leg of the two-stage qualifier at the Hong Kong Stadium on 7-8 November. The women’s seven finished that tournament with a four win and two loss record - with losses coming against the eventual finalists Japan and Kazakhstan - but dispatched pre-tournament favourites China twice, including a 12-7 win in the third place play-off.

The result leaves Hong Kong needing an outright win in Tokyo, but also dependent upon the two finalists from the first leg not reaching this weekend’s cup match.Should either opponent reach the final in Tokyo they will have done enough to book their ticket to Rio on overall points across the series.

If Hong Kong win in Tokyo and Japan and Kazakhstan fail to reach the final, tie-breakers will come into effect. First up will be the head-to-head results between the two tied teams across the two Olympic qualifier events. If three teams are tied at the end of play on Sunday, point differentials across the series will be the deciding factor.

Hong Kong must win and win well this weekend. The hometown heroes have the advantage of heading to Japan with an unchanged side including flying winner Aggie Poon Pak Yan, who has been the revelation of the series.

Poon again proved that she is the deadliest finisher in Asian women’s rugby, leading all players with eight tries in Hong Kong earlier this month. Those totals bring her remarkable season tally to 25 tries and 24 conversions over the qualifier and two Asian sevens events so far in 2015, for a combined 173 points.

Hong Kong will need Poon to be on song once again as the team looks to make an all-out push for a historic Olympic berth. Squad veterans in captain Christy Cheng Ka Chi, vice captain Natasha Olson-Thorne and Candy Cheng Tsz Ting will also need to peak at the opportune moment to give Hong Kong any chance of success.

The Tokyo qualifier will again see six teams competing in a single pool, round-robin competition. Hong Kong will face Japan, Kazakhstan, China, Sri Lanka and Guam.

Hong Kong will open in Tokyo against Guam, whom they blanked 29-0 earlier this month but it is the last two matches on day one that will determine Hong Kong’s chances as they face Kazakhstan and Japan in the closing ties on Saturday.

Both sides beat Hong Kong in the first qualifier, with Japan handing the hosts a 36-0 whitewash to end day one in Happy Valley - that match coming on the heels of Hong Kong’s highly physical 5-0 victory over China.

Coach Anna Richards commented on the squad’s performance from the opening leg, saying, “we were up-and-down unfortunately, but we still have a mathematical chance. It will be a tough one and we must now win it all this weekend.”

In Tokyo, Hong Kong will need to take matters into their own hands and hand Japan and Kazakhstan early losses to prevent them from reaching the final. Hong Kong’s opening pool match on day two is against China in a potential trap game after Hong Kong gained the upper hand on China in recent tournaments.

China, perhaps the most disappointing performer after many expected them to be Asia’s representatives in Rio, will kick off the second leg against Japan in the first match in Tokyo, a tie that could help upset the formbook and set the stage for a weekend of hoped for surprises.

After looking imperious in the opening leg, Japan will enter the tournament as the heavy favourites particularly as they enjoy a rare opportunity to play in front of their home fans. Japan’s women’s sevens have never played an Asia Rugby tournament at home.

Led by the inspirational Chiharu Nakamura, Japan will be intent on joining their men’s counterparts, who secured the Olympic berth earlier this month after coming back from a 10-point first half deficit to beat Hong Kong 24-10 in the final, next year in Rio.

Hong Kong Squad for Olympic Qualifier – Japan Leg

CHENG Ka Chi Christy (Captain), Natasha OLSON-THORNE (vice captain), Amelie SEURE, CHENG Tsz Ting, CHONG Ka Yan, KWONG Sau Yan, LAI Pou Fan, Lindsay VARTY, NAM Ka Man, POON Pak Yan Aggie, SHAM Wai Sum, Stephanie CUVELIER.