06 May 2016

The Hong Kong Women’s XV will kick off the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship (ARWC) on Saturday in the first match of a home-and-away series with defending champions Japan.

Defending champions Japan are returning seven players from last year’s ARWC squad, which pipped Hong Kong 15-14 in rain-sodden conditions at Aberdeen stadium.

For her first home test in charge of the national team, Hong Kong coach Jo Hull has opted for an experienced selection with 14 of the match-day 23 coming from the team that toured Spain last December as part of Hong Kong’s first international tour outside of Asia.

Hull has also welcomed the return of several players from the elite sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute to the fifteens fold.

“We have definitely opted for an experienced group against Japan and that includes the sevens players. All together the breakdown of the wider squad for the Asian championship is about 50/50 between sevens and fifteens players, which is really encouraging,” Hull said.

Ten of the 12-woman team selected for the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens in April are included for tomorrow’s test, including Christine Gordon who marks a welcome return to fifteen-a-side duties for the national team, joining a mobile back row alongside sevens teammates Melody Li Nim Yan at flanker and Amelie Seure at No.8.

“Our back row is a real strength for us entering the Championship”, said Hull who expects Japan to be “fit and ferocious in the contact area,” noting that the key for Hong Kong will be “how we match that physicality and how we manage the game beyond the set piece.”

Those responsibilities will fall heavily on Hong Kong’s back-row trio as they look to secure solid possession in loose play and link up with another crucial combination tomorrow in the half-backs, where Hull is trialling a new combination in sevens player Colleen Tjosvold at scrum-half and Rose Fong at fly-half. Fong, a skillful and intelligent player, with a powerful running style, will mark her return to international rugby against Japan after a lengthy injury break.

“Colleen really had a strong performance in the domestic league for Valley this year and we thought that she earned the chance to have a run at scrum-half. Her partnership with Rose will be important for what we hope to achieve against Japan,” Hull noted.

Five other sevens players will line-up in the backline for Hong Kong including sevens squad captain Natasha Olson-Thorne at outside centre, flyer Aggie Poon Pak Yan on the right wing and vice-captain Adrienne Garvey at fullback.

Chong Ka Yan and Lee Tsz Ting, both of whom made their Hong Kong Sevens debuts last month, have cracked the starting XV with Chong starting at left wing and Lee playing alongside Olson-Thorne at inside centre.

Candy Cheng Tsz Ting, an experienced sevens player who has also amassed 11 caps at fifteens, will start on the reserves bench along with Karen So, Ku Hoi Ying, Chan Ka Yan, Cheng Ching To, Sharon Tsang, Mak Ho Yee and another sevens squad member Nam Ka Man.

“There is a good mix of the sevens and fifteens players in the wider squad for the Championship. It is about a 50/50 split which is really encouraging,” said Hull.

Hull’s squad is representative of Hong Kong women’s rugby as a whole, with league and grand championship winners Societe Generale Valley providing six players in tomorrow’s 23, while Grand Championship runners-up CPM Gai Wu have ten. Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers send three players while Natixis Hong Kong Football Club and Sabre Kowloon each have two players in the line-up for Japan.

The tight five will be anchored by HKRU Women’s Premiership player of the year in Gai Wu prop Tammy Lau Nga Wun with USRC Tigers’ Winnie Siu Wing Ni at hooker and up-and-coming Valley star Jasmine Cheung Shuk Han at tight-head. Captain Chow Mei Nam will start at lock alongside Claire Forster.

The team’s build-up has been assisted by access to the new fifteens training facilities at THEi as well as the inception of the Women’s Super Series competition in the domestic season, which gave the players additional opportunities to play competitively outside of their clubs, enabling Hull to look at different combinations for the Asian championship.

The Super Series also helped Hull identify additional talent with six players invited from the Series to participate in the selection campaign for the Asian championships. Of those six, one has successfully landed in the final ARWC squad and in tomorrow’s test team against Japan, Gai Wu’s Sharon Tsang Shin Yuen and Angela Chan Ka Yan are the only players in line to make their first caps.

While fielding only one or two potential debutants, Hull is aware that even her experienced players don’t have as many caps as she would like, which makes the priority to continue building strength in depth for Hong Kong.

“We haven’t focused much on Japan in the campaign. Our build-up has been all about us and what we need to do both in the match and for our continued progression as individual players and as a team. Japan have commitments on the Women’s Seven Series at the moment which may draw some of their top players, but they have significant strength in depth.

“We are giving them a lot of respect, but we haven’t focused on them, only on what we need to do and I’m hugely excited to see how we will come together against Japan.”

Hong Kong Women’s Squad for Japan (ARWC, 7 May 2016)

1. Tammy LAU Nga Wun, 2. Winnie SIU Wing Ni, 3. Jasmine CHEUNG Shuk Hang, 4. Claire FORSTER, 5. CHOW Mei Nam (captain), 6. Christine GORDON, 7. Melody LI Nim Yan, 8. Amelie SEURE, 9. Colleen TJOSVOLD, 10. Rose FONG Siu Lan, 11. CHONG Ka Yan, 12. LEE Tsz Ting, 13. Natasha OLSON-THORNE, 14. Aggie POON Pak Yan, 15. Adrienne GARVEY (Vice-captain). Reserves: 16. Karen SO Hoi Ting, 17. KU Hoi Ying, 18. CHAN Ka Yan, 19. CHENG Ching To, 20. Sharon TSANG Shin Yuen, 21. Cindy MAK Ho Yee, 22. Candy CHENG Tsz Ting, 23. NAM Ka Man.