04 May 2016

The Hong Kong Women’s National team will play a home and away series against Japan to settle the 2016 Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) after perennial contenders Kazakhstan withdrew from the competition. The tests will be played before the respective Hong Kong v Japan men’s fixtures with the women opening their campaign at home this Saturday, 7 May, (13.30 at HKFC).

Coach Jo Hull has selected a squad of 28 players for the Asian campaign, which will include the two matches versus Japan and a game against Singapore on 14 May. With Kazakhstan’s withdrawal, Hong Kong’s tour of Spain last December - the first ever tour for the Women’s XV outside of Asia - looks even more vital in hindsight.

Hull agreed that that opportunity will now prove even more useful than initially expected, saying, “I think now is when we’re going to see the pay-off from the Spain Tour. We have pretty much been working non-stop since we came back with the group and the players have had time to reflect on the tour and the physicality and skill level required in the elite women’s game. The last few months have been focusing on implementing what we have been working on since Spain.”

Hull has placed a premium on experience in the squad with 18 of the players coming from the Spain Tour. Of the ten not present in Spain, five come in from the sevens programme in experienced campaigners Christine Gordon, Lai Pou Fan and Lindsay Varty, and up and comers Nam Ka Man and Lee Tsz Ting. Those five join several of their fellow HKSI elite athletes in the ARC squad, with 13 of the 28 players coming from the sevens set-up including captain Natasha Olson-Thorne.

Also returning to the squad after a lengthy recovery from injury is the influential Rose Fong Siu-Lan, a top class player who played for England Schools and will be a massive addition to the side.

“Rose has been working really hard and it is great to have her back,” said Hull, who previously coached Fong in the United Kingdom. “She is a quality fly-half who can help direct our game on the pitch. Saturday will be her first test match since her injury and since getting married earlier this month and I know that she is really looking forward to returning.”

Reflecting the dominance of recent Premiership seasons, the majority of the squad come from CPM Gai Wu Falcons and league title and grand champion winners, Societe Generale Valley, with 12 and six players respectively in the final 28. Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers have six representatives followed by Sabre Kowloon and Natixis Hong Kong Football Club with two each. Gai Wu No.8 Chow Mei Nam will captain the squad with Valley’s Adrienne Garvey as vice-captain, reprising their roles from Spain.

The squad gives Hull plenty of options: “Our back row is a real strength. Our tight five, while not overly experienced in numbers of caps, has really improved in their fitness and in mastering the unique skillsets required for their positions while our backs are hugely experienced and have some real pace.”

Hull is particularly excited about the new culture developing around the team. “We’ve seen a huge improvement with the girls in terms of their attitude and commitment, most notably in the work the team has put into their strength and conditioning, something which has been helped by our access to the facilities at the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi).

“With the tests in Spain, this year’s inaugural Super Series competition, the growing competitiveness of the Premiership and the facilities at THEi, I would say that this is the best and most intense build-up the Hong Kong Women’s XV have ever had ahead of a competition. The training centre at THEi is a fantastic resource and has not only enhanced our performance but helped instill a high performance environment within and around the team,” Hull added.

Now all that is left is to go out and win according to Hull.“We target to take two from two against Japan, but we fully respect what they bring to the table and we don’t say that lightly. We haven’t beaten Japan for a long time, although we have come close on recent occasions.

“We know Japan will be supremely fit and ferocious in the contact area. The key for us is how we match that physicality and how we manage the game beyond the set piece. We want the players to express themselves. The girls are getting much better at playing what is front of them and playing with innovation and we want them to feed off the occasion and the opportunity to play Japan at home.

“We have a new mindset and the girls have really bought fully into the new culture we are developing,” said Hull.“We are only thinking about 7 May at 13.30.”

Saturday will mark the first home outing for Hull in charge of the national XV, and her first hit-out against Japan.

Hong Kong Women’s Squad for the Asia Rugby Championship 2016:
CHOW Mei Nam (captain), Adrienne GARVEY (vice-captain), Natasha OLSON-THORNE, Rose FONG Siu Lan, Colleen TJOSVOLD, LI Nim Yan, Karen SO Hoi Ting,Amelie SEURE, CHAN Ka Yan, CHENG Ching To, Christine GORDON, Claire FORSTER, KU Hoi Ying, Tammy LAU Nga Wun, Winnie SIU Wing Ni, CHENG Tsz Ting, CHONG Ka Yan, MAK Ho Yee, POON Pak Yan, Sharon TSANG Shin Yuen, LEE Tsz Ting, NAM Ka Man,CHEUNG Shuk Han