A fresh-faced Hong Kong squad will hope to hit the ground running at the McDonald’s Coral Coast Sevens in Sigatoka, Fiji on Thursday. The team, under new women’s sevens coach Iain Monaghan, and featuring four players on debut out of the 14-woman squad, will look to reprise their Cup final appearance from 2018.
It will be Monaghan’s first time coaching the side after his appointment at end 2018 and arrival in Hong Kong just two days prior to the team’s departure on Sunday. The 38-year old is a veteran coach and administrator who previously worked in the elite academy structure at the Scottish Rugby Union where he fulfilled a variety of roles, including coaching the Scotland U18s and Assistant Coaching the Scotland U20s sides, as well as running the SRU’s Academy programme in Glasgow. He has also coached for Glasgow Warriors and in Italy.
“It’s a very exciting and important time for the women’s performance game; particularly for our sevens programme, as we approach 2019 with the key focus on Olympic qualification.
“It’s great to bring Iain in to drive the performance of the team. Having vast experience after previously working with national teams in Scotland, I’m confident he will bring in new ideas and challenge the current player base,” said Jo Hull, Head of Women’s Rugby Performance at the HKRU and national XVs coach.
During his time with the SRU, Monaghan worked with both men’s and women’s elite rugby athletes and he looks forward to the challenge ahead.
“My coaching journey is all about getting better, and I think to get better you need to leave your comfort zone. That is a big foundation of why I coach. I enjoy educating players as a coach, but also at the same time learning from those around me. This opportunity came up and it was too hard to pass up.”
Monaghan arrived last week ahead of the team’s departure, having time to attend a training session with the squad in residence at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and watching the Valley versus USRC Tigers match on the weekend to further familiarise himself with the scene.
“The facilities at the HKSI and the Union are first-class. The staff are excellent and the team have all the resources to be high performing, now it is about challenging the players to be high performance people and that’s always a good challenge.”
“Learning is a big thing for me and I will put that to the players so they understand. It’s a journey for them, but there are milestones along the way that we have to meet. It’s highs and lows, it’s emotional, the whole works really, but it stands them in great stead for the things they do later on in life.”
“From what I saw in that first session, it’s a good bunch. It’s hugely motivating to see how well they are going. They have come back pretty quick now post Christmas and picked up right where they left off, so it’s all credit to the guys that have been keeping them going until now and I’m just excited to be involved.
“It’s fantastic because they are full-time, so I can spend more time with them personally and get to know what they are like as people, what their backgrounds are, why they’re involved and why they make the sacrifices they do – and there are many to be an elite athlete – so for me, the set-up is great.”
Monaghan relishes the fact that he and the squad have been thrown in the deep end on their first outing of 2019, saying, “We all know what Fiji are like at sevens; very unstructured and physical. Any time you go out of your country, you find about yourself, so this is a great opportunity for the young ones and a great chance for the older ones to set a standard for the others to aspire to.”
And there will be plenty of young ones in the group with the squad featuring four players on their senior squad debuts, all prominent recent graduates of the National Age Grade programme, including Jessica Eden and Sarah Lucas, both of whom were capped on the Women’s XV tour to Spain and Wales last year and Maelle Picut and Amy Pyle. Tse Wing-kiu marks her second selection for the senior squad after playing in tournaments last year in Amsterdam and Portugal.
Surrounding the newcomers is a core of experience with captain Natasha Olson-Thorne, Melody Li, Sham Wai-sum, Colleen Tjosvold and Chong Ka-yan all set to appear. Recently emerging players Stephanie Chan, Vivian Poon, Amber Tsang and Jessica Ho are also included.
Monaghan’s expectations for the first competition are aligned to the unique situation: “I would like them to show some character in what they’re doing, see a bit of team-ness in them, see them working hard for one another and, with that, accept that there will be a few errors. They will be a bit rusty coming off of fifteens; fitness will be an issue, as will the temperatures and conditions.
“It will be good for me to see them in that stretch zone. Everything is about being quick and not just on the field, being quick to assess and quick to learn, being quick to push on and be better.
“It’s pretty new to me, but I know there is a strong competition there and the girls did well last year so there is a bit of history there for us.”
Last year, Hong Kong reached the Cup final before losing to local outfit Striders in the showcase match. Striders return to what is a 12-team women’s field in 2019, alongside the national development seven, Fijiana Development, and shadow squad USA Stars, setting the stage for another competitive two days on the Coral Coast.