26th Mar 2024


Hong Kong China Rugby today confirmed the final men’s and women’s sevens squads competing in the inaugural Melrose Claymores tournament at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2024 (5-7 April 2024) at the Hong Kong Stadium.

In addition to preparing for the debut Melrose Claymores tournament, the teams are attempting to qualify for a full-time place as core sides on the World Rugby HSBC SVNS series. The third and final qualification event in the HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series will be held in May (women’s in Krakow, Poland and men’s in Munich, Germany).

Hong Kong China men are in fifth place, one spot adrift of a required top four finish on the Series ahead of the final tournament. The women are in eighth place. The top four men’s and women’s teams from the Challenger advance to a promotion play-off at the finale of the HSBC SVNS in Madrid this Spring.

In June, both sides are also competing in the final international qualification tournament for the 2024 Olympic Games with the tournament winners booking the last spot in Paris this summer.

Hong Kong China women’s sevens coach Andy Vilk has now confirmed a final 12-woman squad for the Melrose tournament, trimmed down after a wider squad of 16 players had been named at a media launch event hosted by co-title sponsors Cathay and HSBC on Tuesday (26 March).

The group includes experienced stars like captain Natasha Olson-Thorne, Nam Ka-man and Chong Ka-yan, and some of the influx of young talent in the squad including Micayla Baltazar.

Hong Kong China Men’s coach Jevon Groves had already named his final 12 for the Melrose Claymore battle at the media launch event, with long-time captain Max Woodward returning fresh from being rested across the opening of the Challenger Series to mark his seventh Hong Kong Sevens weekend, and his sixth as captain.

He will be ably assisted by the experienced Salom Yiu Kam Shing making his 13th appearance inside the Stadium, as well as fellow veteran leaders Lee Ka-to, Michael Coverdale and Alessandro Nardoni. James Sawyer, Fong Kit Fung will both be making their Hong Kong stadium debuts.

Seb Brien and Max Denmark are both recovering from injury as Groves keeps one eye on the Challenger finale in Munich in May. Yiu, Liam Herbert, and Fong Kit Fung will be relied on to provide the finishing for the expected 40,000 daily fans this April, with Denmark and Brien (who led all try scorers last year inside the Stadium with six over the weekend) being rested.

“There are a few changes but we are giving some of the boys an opportunity and managing some players that picked up injuries in Uruguay, because it has been a heavy period. There is still plenty of experience in the group and we are really excited to see what this group can do.

“We have a real chance in the Challenger, so it has been a case of keeping one eye on that Munich tournament in May as well, which is another reason we needed to give some guys a look in now to get them back running again.

“Last year in Hong Kong some of our best memories were after playing, when we were interacting with the crowd. That is our motivation this year. We have a higher purpose to use the weekend as a way to generate buzz for Hong Kong Rugby. If we can, through our performance, get more people involved in rugby, and interested in rugby, that is what we hope to do,” said Groves, who played for Wales in the Hong Kong Sevens from 2009-2011 before joining HKCR.

“I have played in a few Hong Kong tournaments, not all that successfully for Wales I am afraid. I even lost to Hong Kong here once. Hong Kong is one of the best tournaments that I have played in and coached in; it was always the one the players wanted to be involved in even outside of Hong Kong, so to be a part of marking 30 years in the Stadium is really special,” Groves added.

That sentiment was shared by Natasha Olson-Thorne, captain of the Hong Kong China women’s squad, “To run out in the stadium in front of our home crowd playing against some of the world’s best teams, those are moments that I treasure; playing in front of your friends and family in the stadium is something I will always remember.

“It’s really important to have role models for female athletes, so girls know they can aspire to play rugby as a career. You can become a professional athlete, you can compete on the world stage in rugby, that will always be an option. I want young girls to look at me and say ‘yes, I aspire to do that, I aspire to play women’s rugby for Hong Kong,” added Olson-Thorne, who earned her first Hong Kong Sevens cap in 2007.

“On behalf of Hong Kong China Rugby I would like to congratulate all of the players here today and wish them all the best as they represent Hong Kong China inside the Stadium. Win or lose we know these athletes will once again represent Hong Kong and our rugby community positively both on and off the field,” said Mr Chris Brooke, Chairman of Hong Kong China Rugby.

Ms Luanne Lim, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Hong Kong said: “HSBC is proud to be a long-

term supporter of Hong Kong China Rugby, the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens and the HSBC

SVNS series. The Hong Kong Sevens is about global camaraderie and athletic brilliance. We are delighted to be here today to support the Hong Kong China rugby teams. They carry the hopes and dreams of thousands of young local players and fans on their shoulders when they enter the stadium. We are confident that will do themselves, and our city proud.

“Besides elite rugby teams and tournaments, HSBC also support several community rugby programmes in Hong Kong. Over 67,000 boys and girls from local schools have now had the opportunity to play rugby through the HSBC Try Rugby Programme.”

Ms Lavinia Lau, Chief Customer & Commercial Officer of Cathay said: “Cathay has long been a proud supporter of rugby in Hong Kong, and we are delighted to be sponsoring the Hong Kong China Rugby representative teams as they take to the field for the inaugural Melrose Claymores tournament at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens this year.

Many values can be learned from our rugby teams. Defined by respect, discipline, and teamwork, our home-grown athletes demonstrate the true spirit of excellence, progressiveness, and determination – values that we at Cathay embrace wholeheartedly as cornerstones of our brand culture. From our team at Cathay to yours, a huge congratulations to the players and to Hong Kong China Rugby for everything they have accomplished, and we look forward to cheering on our rugby teams as they strive together to achieve their dreams and inspire the next generation of Hong Kong sportspeople.”

“On behalf of Hong Kong China Rugby I would like to congratulate all of the players here today and to wish them all the best as they bid to represent Hong Kong China inside the Stadium next month. Win or lose we know these athletes will once again represent Hong Kong and our rugby community positively on and off the field,” said Mr Chris Brooke, HKCR Chairman.

The Hong Kong China women’s seven will open their Melrose Claymore challenge on Friday, 5 April, at 18:22 versus China, while the men will also play China at 19:24. On Saturday, Hong Kong China women face Thailand at 14:09 while the men take on Japan at 15:11. The remaining matches in the round robin format will be played on Sunday, 7 April, with China women taking on Thailand at 9:40 and China men playing Japan at 10:03. At the conclusion of the round robin format the top two teams in each competition face off in the Melrose Claymores Finals, with the women’s match at 15:28 and the men’s match at 15:56.

The Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is proud of being an “M” Mark event that helps enhance the image of Hong Kong as Asia’s sports event capital. The “M” Mark awarded by the Major Sports Events Committee, symbolising intense, spectacular and signature event in the territory sports calendar.

Hong Kong China Men’s Sevens Final Squad for Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens (5-7 Apr):

Max WOODWARD (Captain); James CHRISTIE; Mike COVERDALE; FONG Kit Fung*; Liam HERBERT; LEE Ka To Cado; Alessandro NARDONI; Bryn PHILLIPS; James SAWYER*; Harry SAYERS; Hugo STILES; YIU Kam Shing.

*Hong Kong Sevens debut

Hong Kong China Women’s Sevens Final Squad for Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens (5-7 Apr)

Natasha OLSON-THORNE (Captain); AU YEUNG Sin Yi; BALTAZAR, Micayla; CHAN Chor Ki Stephanie; CHAN Tsz Ching; CHONG Ka Yan; Shanna FORREST; FUNG Hoi Ching; HO Wai On Jessica; NAM Ka Man; POON Hoi Yan; Gabriella RIVERS