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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: Hong Kong

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: Hong Kong

There is a huge sense of excitement as the Hong Kong Women’s 15s squad prepare to play their first ever tournament in Europe. Guided by former Scotland Women’s Performance Manager Jo Hull, they are newcomers to the Women’s Rugby World Cup stage and keen to make a splash in Ireland next month.

HONG KONG

Head Coach: Jo Hull
Team Captain: Chow Mei-nam
Women’s Rugby World Cup Record:
Current World Ranking: 23rd

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WRWC 2017 Fixtures:

Pool A –

Canada v Hong Kong, Billings Park, UCD, 5.15pm, Wednesday, August 9
New Zealand v Hong Kong, Billings Park, UCD, 12pm, Sunday, August 13
Wales v Hong Kong, UCD Bowl, 5.15pm, Thursday, August 17

Play-Offs –

Semi-Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Tuesday, August 22
Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Saturday, August 26

Best WRWC Moment: Jo Hull’s hungry Hong Kong side made history last December by qualifying for their nation’s first ever 15s Rugby World Cup. No men’s or women’s team from Hong Kong had achieved the feat before.

It has been a period of great progress for the 15s game in Hong Kong, and sealing a second place finish behind fellow qualifiers Japan in the triangular Asia/Oceania qualifying tournament was a massive boost. Although they lost 20-8 to Japan in the concluding game, their crucial seven-try 45-7 victory over Fiji on an electric night at Kings Park will long in the memory.

Soundbites: Jo Hull – “(This two-match Asian Championship against Japan) is a big test of our progress for the World Cup. There has been a clear message to the girls selected about accountability and we’re putting a premium on efficiency and accuracy. Each game is about getting us one step closer to how we want to play on the world stage.

“While the squad has really come into their own over the past six months, at this stage of the campaign, there are no second chances. The players have to be accountable, plain and simple. They know and accept that. While everyone has bought into the team ethos and understands that we are going to need every last 28 of the women we bring to Ireland, there are some really hungry players who are disappointed with this selection.

“I’ve seen a huge turnaround in Women’s rugby since I arrived in Hong Kong in 2015. At a national level, we have grown from a six-week to a 10-month programme, with regular analysis and a big emphasis on strength and conditioning.

“Going to a World Cup is an experience you will never replicate in any other part of your life. These girls will give their heart and soul to every minute of that and that is all that you can ask of them.”

Chong Ka-yan – “Beating Fiji to qualify for the 2017 World Cup is a massive motivation and achievement. An achievement like that used to seem so far away, but with the dedication and effort of everyone, we took confidence from beating Kazakhstan (twice in 2016) and used that to beat Fiji and qualify for the World Cup. We’re so excited that we’re going to be competing on the world stage.”

Did You Know?: Hong Kong’s progression to WRWC level has been aided by significant investment in Women’s rugby by the Hong Kong Rugby Union. In August 2015, Jo Hull was appointed as HKRU Women’s Rugby Performance Manager and senior coach of the Hong Kong 15s side, while noted former Hong Kong player Sam Feausi came on board as the HKRU Women’s Rugby Development Manager. Another new initiative was the setting up an internal representative competition in which the best 66 players in Hong Kong compete against each other throughout the year for the ‘Super Series’ title.

Team Profile: The appointment of two full-time staff members to focus on the development of the Women’s game was a timely move by HKRU officials. Little over a year later, the hard work of Jo Hull and Sam Feausi, combined with an enthusiastic set of coaches and players, bore fruit with that coveted World Cup place.

There is an Irish link in Hull’s coaching staff with New Zealander Kevin West returning to Dublin next month as Hong Kong’s forwards coach. West came to Ireland in 1994 to coach Naas and went on to coach various club and schools teams before taking charge of the Ireland Women’s side between 2009 and 2010.

With Hong Kong’s improved structures and resources in place and obvious improvements in training and squad depth, the Hong Kong Women made some crucial breakthroughs in 2016, initially gaining confidence from a series of wins over Singapore (40-7) and Kazakhstan (25-22 and 37-10 in two training games).

Those results had them in good stead for the World Cup qualifiers and they really put a physical ‘Fijiana’ to the sword in that eye-catching 45-7 success on home soil. Things really clicked for Hong Kong on the night as Natasha Olson-Thorne (pictured below) scored two of their seven tries and her equally impressive centre partner Adrienne Garvey kicked 15 points.

Fiji’s subsequent 55-0 loss to Japan confirmed Hong Kong’s top-two finish in the qualifiers, and having gone down 20-8 to their Asian rivals in the tournament’s final game, Hull’s charges were slotted into Pool A for the World Cup alongside two of the world’s top three teams, New Zealand and Canada, and an ever-improving Wales team.

It is a daunting prospect for Hong Kong to open their Ireland 2017 campaign against Canada and the Black Ferns in the opening two rounds, but HKRU’s General Manager of Rugby Performance, Dai Rees, says they are leaving no stone unturned in their preparations for the tournament.

The Welshman underlined: “I think globally the HKRU is only behind the RFU in England in the way we resource the Women’s game. A crucial part of our success (so far) is that our approach reflects the fact that the Men’s and Women’s games are completely different and that Women’s rugby performance requires different and highly-specialised support which we are providing and to which the players are obviously responding.”

With significant time commitments already demanded of Hong Kong’s elite women players, the squad are being supported by the HKRU with full and part-time scholarships for those players not already in the full-time Sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.

Hull has previous WRWC experience as Scotland assistant coach in 2006 and Performance Manager four years later. Looking forward to tackling what she reckons is ‘undoubtedly the most physical pool’ in Dublin, she said: “A lot of the girls have played those teams at Sevens, but to come together and play them at 15s will be an amazing experience. We want to do well. We don’t just want to turn up. Having earned our place, we want to justify being there.

“A World Cup is three weeks of intense pressure, but it is an amazing three weeks, surrounded by amazing athletes and coaches and a really high performance culture. It is about celebrating how far Women’s rugby has come. To be there you have to be prepared. You have to be ready for the pressure, and you have to be able to perform at the right time.”

A number of Hong Kong’s leading players, including experienced number 8 Amelie ‘Frenchie’ Seure (pictured above), line out together for the Valley club, the reigning Women’s Premiership champions who have strung together a 42-match unbeaten run over three seasons. They made it three Grand Championship crowns on the trot by beating arch rivals Gai Wu in the March final.

May’s Super Series saw Hong Kong’s elite women face off under the watchful eyes of Hull and her coaching staff, before a two-match tour of Spain gave them a further benchmark of their international development. Five players made their debuts against the Spanish, including forwards Agnes Chan Tsz-ching, Eunice Lai Ming-yan, Tsang Sin-yan and Pun Wai-yan.

Sevens squad members like Aggie Poon Pak-yan, the hard-running Olson-Thorne and Colleen Tjosvold seem to grow in influence with each Test match, and a number of the Sevens contingent played at UCD in the 2015 World Series qualifiers and 2016 Olympic Repechage. One such player, talented winger Poon Pak-yan (pictured below), scored all of the 15s team’s points – including two tries – in last month’s 41-18 defeat to Spain.

They will need a big set piece performance from seasoned hooker Royce Chan Leong-sze, who has over 20 caps behind her, as their scrum has come under pressure in recent outings. Hull has been trying out new combinations, and it will be interesting to see how 20-year-old talent Lee Tsz-ting and Lindsay Varty fare together at half-back in today’s Asian Championship opener away to Japan, along with national age-grade product Rebecca Thompson at inside centre.

Former England Academy representative Rose Hopewell-Fong is pushing hard for the number 10 shirt, while new cap Kelsie Bouttle, who is on the bench for the Japan game, has been rewarded for her domestic form with Valley. Centre Garvey captains the side in the absence of regular skipper Chow Mei-nam, who is an inspirational figure for the team, ‘leading by example in everything she does, on and off the pitch’, according to the head coach.

Hull added: “Hopefully the World Cup will encourage youngsters and women to get involved and play in that Hong Kong jersey and take a lot of pride in that. Bringing Hong Kong out of Asia to compete against world-class teams and be in the top 12 on that international stage will be fantastic and I think it’ll be a huge catalyst for the game in Hong Kong.

“We wanted to create a legacy and create history, but what would be most pleasing is to see our men do the same thing in a couple of years’ time. Hong Kong rugby is about the men and the women. We had this opportunity first and have grabbed it with both hands, but I think it sets a real precedent about the potential we have in our game in Hong Kong.” #BringIt

For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.

HONG KONG WRWC Training Squad: Kelsie Bouttle (Valley/ICHK), Chan Ka-yan (Gai Wu), Royce Chan Leong-sze (HKFC), Agnes Chan Tsz-ching (Tai Po Dragons/HKBU), Cheng Ching-to (Valley), Christy Cheng Ka-chi (Gai Wu), Jasmine Cheung Shuk-han (Valley), Laurel Chor Lik-fung (Valley), Chow Mei-nam (Gai Wu) (capt), Chong Ka-yan (Gai Wu), Adrienne Garvey (Valley), Christine Gordon (Kowloon), Ho Hoi-lam (Gai Wu), Jessica Ho Wai-on (USRC Tigers), Rose Hopewell-Fong Siu-Lan (HKFC), Ku Hoi-ying (Gai Wu), Kwong Sau-yan (TPD), Eunice Lai Ming-yan (USRC Tigers), Tammy Lau Nga-wun (Gai Wu), Lau Sze-wa (Valley), Lee Ka-shun (Gai Wu), Lee Tsz-ting (Gai Wu/HKBU), Chloe Mak Ho-yee (Kowloon), Natasha Olson-Thorne (USRC Tigers), Aggie Poon Pak-yan (Gai Wu), Pun Wai-yan (Gai Wu/EdUHK), Karen So Hoi-ting (Valley), Amelie Seure (Valley), Winnie Siu Wing-ni (USRC Tigers), Rebecca Thompson (Valley), Colleen Tjosvold (Valley), Tsang Ching-man (SCAA CWB), Tsang Sin-yan (Kowloon), Lindsay Varty (USRC Tigers), Wong Yuen-shan (USRC Tigers/EdUHK).

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