The men’s qualifier will be played from Friday to Sunday, 5-7 April, in the Hong Kong Stadium, while the women’s competition starts at So Kon Po on Thursday, 4 April, before moving across the street to the Stadium for the full second day action.
Much is at stake with the squads jockeying for full-time spots on their respective World Series in 2020, while the region’s Olympic Qualifier also looms this November.
The women have added incentive to perform next weekend following the announcement that the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will host a full leg of the HSBC Women’s Rugby World Sevens Series starting in 2020.
The men’s seven have been invited by World Rugby as the 16th team in Singapore the week following Hong Kong, the pools for which will be drawn on Sunday after the completion of the Hong Kong Sevens.
“On behalf of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, I congratulate all of the players and wish them the utmost success in their upcoming tournaments.
With spots on the line in next year’s World Series and the Olympic qualifiers this autumn, our elite sevens athletes have some hopefully golden opportunities in store and we look forward to cheering them on every step of the way,” said Mr Robbie McRobbie, CEO of the HKRU.
Mr Jonathan Castleman, Global Head of Brand Partnerships, HSBC, wished the sides well saying:
“Alongside our ongoing partnership of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, HSBC is also proud to be a key partner of both the Men’s and Women’s Hong Kong team.
As rugby sevens continues to grow at an astonishing rate, the Hong Kong Sevens remains the ultimate metaphor for the sport and to that point, we are extremely pleased with the recent news that the event will now combine the Men’s and Women’s tournaments as part of the series going forward.
“As not just partners to the teams, but also fans, we urge everyone to get behind these squads as they take on the rest of the world for that coveted Series spot in what is set to be one of the most exciting qualifying tournaments to date.
As sevens expands to new markets, more nations are challenging than ever before and we wish all of the team the very best of luck with what is sure to be an unmissable tournament.”
New look for Hong Kong Women’s Seven
— Asia Rugby (@asiarugby) March 24, 2019
A new look women’s squad enters their biggest event of the year to date off of a positive run of results since the arrival of new coach Iain Monaghan in January.
Under first year captain Melody Li Nim-yan, the team advanced to the plate quarterfinals of the Coral Coast Sevens in Fiji and finished fourth at the recent Borneo Sevens.
Monaghan has ambitions to turn the squad into the fastest team in Asia, and has the building blocks to work with as well, with five of the 12-woman squad making their Qualifiers debut, including four currently still in the U20s ranks: Jessica Eden, Sarah Lucas, Amy Pyle and Maelle Picut. Scrumhalf Jessica Ho is also on debut after just missing out in 2018.
“We want to play with speed, because it suits our skillset and allows us to apply more pressure and score tries, and that is what we are all about, scoring tries,” said Monaghan.
The squad features a core of seasoned experience with Li, Colleen Tjosvold, Chong Ka-yan, Ivy Kwong, Stephanie Chan, Agnes Chan and Vivian Poon rounding out the group. Hong Kong has drawn an interesting group against last year’s losing semi-finalists Kenya, one of the real threats in 2019, Papua New Guinea and debutants Uganda in Pool Y.
“It’s always good to play opposition you don’t normally play. You learn a lot about yourself that way and that’s where we currently are.
To play these teams will expose not just some weaknesses we might not have known we had, but also some strengths as well.
If we aspire to reach World Series levels, and we do, then we need to perform, and perform well, against every team we come up against,” Monaghan added.
Men’s Seven face familiar challenge
The men are preparing for another run at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, but the challenge continues to grow as more and more nations pump resources into their seven-a-side programmes, particularly with 2019 being a global Olympic qualification year.
Adding to the degree of difficulty are the nine of 12 teams returning from last year’s cutthroat competition, and Russia – relegated from the Series in 2018.
Hong Kong are top seeds in Pool E along with Tonga, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines, three teams they know well, but two of which (Tonga and Zimbabwe) will be playing in their second Series event this season, as will Chile – a significant advantage over the field.
Russia will tangle with last year’s semi finalists Ireland in Pool F – with experienced competitors Uruguay and Jamaica in the mix. The other 2018 semi-finalists, Chile and Germany, face off in Pool G with Uganda and Cook Islands.
“The quality of the competition is getting higher and higher each year, and it’s up to us to raise our game and keep up,” said Hong Kong coach Paul John, who had his wider squad hit out today with defending champions Fiji at the Hong Kong Sports Institute
Former Hong Kong coach and teammate of John with Wales, Gareth Baber, now coaching Fiji, complimented Hong Kong’s performance after this morning’s joint training session saying, “They look good.
“They are a smart group. They understand the elements. The coaches work very, very hard with them to make sure they have their systems right in defence and attack, and they were across what they needed to do.
It is just where you are physically when you put it to the test in games and we obviously can’t test that here without going full out, but I was impressed.
“There are certainly far more numbers there than there were three years ago, which is great to see, because inevitably it leads to greater competition in the group, and you want to get the best out of everybody.
They are pushing forward together and recent wins in things like the Asian Games is proof of that.”
The men are coming off of a positive outing in Borneo, where they reached the final despite playing with just ten players after Max Denmark and Kane Boucaut picked up injuries early on that have ruled them out for next week.
Taking every opportunity to look at the squad, John used a wider group of 16 in today’s Fiji training with a final 12 to be named in the coming days.
The men enter the Qualifier as Asian Games gold medallists for the first time, having beat Japan in the final in Indonesia last summer, a feat for which they won the Hong Kong Sports Star Awards’ Team Award this week.
The group features a raft of young talent including Mak Kwai-chung, who has impressed when given his opportunities this season, including a six-try haul in Borneo last weekend; Seb Brien, who can play in both the forwards and backs; and Liam Herbert, a veteran of the SAR’s Rugby World Cup Sevens squad last year.
Hong Kong-born Harry Sayers, who returned home to play for Valley in this season’s Premiership was also involved in today’s session.
Russell Webb, who made his Hong Kong Sevens debut last year, but suffered an injury that kept him out for much of the rest of the season, ran the pivot well in Fiji and Borneo to press his claims again, while Raef Morrison has also capped a successful return to the squad this season after finishing university.
While the emerging talent seems limitless – spaces are anything but – thanks to a large and healthy senior leadership group of Ben Rimene, Max Woodward, Salom Yiu, Jamie Hood, Lee Jones, Mike Coverdale, Alex and Tom McQueen, Cado Lee, Toby Fenn and Jack Neville; players whose individual and collective experience may prove invaluable during crunch time in the cauldron that is the Stadium on Sevens weekend.
Hong Kong Women’s Seven Squad:
Melody LI Nim-yan (captain), Agnes CHAN Tsz-Ching, Stephanie CHAN, CHONG Ka-yan, Jessica EDEN*, Jessica HO Wai-On*, Ivy KWONG Sau-yan, Sarah LUCAS*, Maelle PICUT*, POON Hoi-yan*, Amy PYLE, Colleen TJOSVOLD.
* Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens / World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Qualifier debut
Hong Kong Men’s Seven (Expanded Squad):
Sebastian BRIEN*, Michael COVERDALE, Toby FENN, Liam HERBERT*, Jamie HOOD, Lee JONES, Cado LEE Ka-to, Alex McQUEEN, Tom McQUEEN, MAK Kwai-chung*, Raef MORRISON, Jack NEVILLE, Ben RIMENE, Russell WEBB, Max WOODWARD, Salom YIU Kam-shing.
*Potential Hong Kong Sevens debut