Team Hong Kong opens strong in Monaco, The Hong Kong, China men’s and women’s sevens squads returned to international action – after a layoff of over a year, at the World Rugby Olympic Sevens repechage in Monaco.
Both teams advanced as joint pool leaders overnight with final pool games with France tomorrow.
The men’s seven overcame the disruption of an eve of tournament withdrawal by Uganda after Covid-19 complications to chalk up a convincing opening win against Jamaica, (31-5), before outlasting Chile in a come from behind thriller (26-15).
The wins have Hong Kong level with pre-tourney top seeds France in Pool B with their head-to-head bout Sunday a contest for the most advantageous seeding in the knockout semi-finals. The winner of the men’s repechage will earn the final spot at Tokyo 2020 next month.
The Hong Kong Women had an equally impressive start, dispatching Colombia 31-10, and Madagascar, 19-12, to finish as joint top seeds in Pool C with France.
The women’s tournament will play quarterfinals to set up the final four, with the winners of the two semis advancing to Tokyo 2020.
Both squads finish pool play against HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series sides France. The women’s pool game is at 18.25 Sunday evening (Hong Kong time; 20 June), with the men hitting out at 20.00.
The French men look in World Series form after beating Jamaica 40-0 and following up with a second convincing win over Chile (43-7).
Ireland and Samoa are the obvious class in Pool A with some imperious performances in the group as each crossed the 100-point threshold on day one.
In its first action since February 2020, Hong Kong made short work of an undermanned Jamaica. The 10-strongislanders put up a stiff challenge in the opening half with Hong Kong leading 17-5, but fell off the pace in the second as Hong Kong ran out 31-5 winners.
“We’re feeling good,” said HKSI Head Sevens coach Paul John after day one. “The boys had to adapt without two games this morning, which seems like an advantage but can be a bit of a worry in a tournament like this, but we were very pleased with the way we went against Jamaica. We scored some good tries and played well after the first few minutes,” John added.
Hong Kong knocked the rust off just in time, with Chile posing a stiff challenge in the second match. Hong Kong jumped out to an early lead after heady play from Raef Morrison who pounced on a loose ball at the ruck and was off to the races untouched for a 7-0 lead after Russell Webb’s conversion.
Chile replied with a well-crafted possession from the restart to score in the corner, but missed the conversion to trail 7-5.
Captain Max Woodward was flagged for a late tackle on the try-scorer and sent to the bin for the closing seconds of the half, with Chile mustering a second quick try to take the lead into the break, 10-7.
They added a second short-handed try to open the second half and extend their lead to 15-7 with six minutes remaining.
Nerves crept in with Hong Kong handing possession away on a few key occasions in the middle of the half but with four minutes left, a veteran showed the way, as winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing capitalized on some enterprising scrambling from Webb and scrumhalf Lee Ka-to to score a burner in the corner. Webb’s conversion was good and Hong Kong had closed the gap to 15-14.
A pitch perfect restart put Chile under pressure and Morrison again came up with the loose ball. Webb took the outlet pass neatly, and cut inside to wrong-foot the Chilean defence and cross the line untouched for the game winner.
His conversion put Hong Kong clear 21-15. Tom McQueen added the icing on the cake with a try to close the match out 26-15.
“We were really pleased against Chile with our composure. We were up against it a bit with the yellow card and going behind with quite a bit of time left, but we kept our heads and fought back into it.
I thought it was just a very composed performance by all 12,” added John.
Hong Kong’s women were even more impressive in their opener, dismantling Colombia, 31-5 in a pristine performance.
Having faced a lengthier lay-off than the men, (last playing internationally in late 2019), the women picked up where they left off racing to a 5-nil lead in the opening minute after a powerful carry from co-captain Natasha Olson-Thorne. Chong Ka-yan widened the gap to 10, then 15-0, in the next two minutes, turning the defence inside out to give Hong Kong a three try margin before Colombia had completed its first pass of the game.
Colombia scored late to bring the score to 17-5 at the half, but the second half saw Chong complete her natural hat trick from the re-start, with Olson-Thorne picking up her second shortly thereafter to push the score to 31-5. Former Hong Kong 15s captain Chow Mei-nam collected her first senior sevens cap, as did Shanna Forrest and Hui Man-ling. A consolation try for Colombia brought the final score to 31-10.
Hong Kong struggled in its second match against a raw but powerful Madagascar seven, although they had much to blame for a poor start after three early handling errors and a turnover gifted their opponents a 12-0 lead.
Senior players Natasha Olson-Thorne and Jessica Ho Wai-on clawed Hong Kong back into it with Ho supporting another blistering charge from her captain to score a try and close the gap to 12-7.
That score held until late with every Hong Kong attack snuffed out by the committed defenders. Hong Kong at one point had made 56 passes to Madagascar’s 11, but despite the frustration of an unpredictable and unstructured opponent, they maintained composure – and pressure.
With two minutes left that pressure finally told as Hong Kong positioned Stephanie Chan out wide for the score.
A high tackle in-goal was rightly deemed a yellow card offence – and a penalty try – by the referee – letting Hong Kong’s kickers off the hook on an attempt from the touchline with the game on the line.
Hong Kong took its first lead 14-12 and quickly resumed normal service, finishing the match with a great passage of play to deposit Hui Man-ling over the line for a third try as Hong Kong won 19-12.
John commented on a solid outing for both sides after the drought saying: “I’m also very pleased with the way the girls have gone today in their first game in a long while back.
Really happy with how they were bashing it up today, they need to put in another good performance against France now.
“But it’s just nice to see both teams back playing. It’s all they want do to, and every player here is the same.
There are some impressive athletes in this competition, so everything just goes up a notch when you factor in that it’s, you know, 482 days since the last men’s performance, and 500 plus for the women.
“It’s so good to see the players out there expressing and believing in themselves; hopefully, that will continue tomorrow against France, and you know hopefully two games after that as well,” he added.
Hong Kong, China Men’s Sevens Squad: Olympic Repechage (June 19-20, Monaco) Max WOODWARD (captain); Raef MORRISON; Michael COVERDALE; Alessandro NARDONI; Cado LEE Ka-to; Jamie HOOD; Alex McQUEEN; Tom McQUEEN; Liam HERBERT; Russell WEBB; Max DENMARK; YIU Kam-shing.
Hong Kong, China Women’s Sevens Squad: Olympic Repechage (June 19-20, Monaco) Melody LI Nim-yan (co-capt); Natasha OLSON-THORNE (co-capt); CHONG Ka-yan; NAM Ka-man; Stephanie CHAN Chor-ki; Jessica HO Wai-on; CHAN, Chloe; Agnes TSE Wing-kiu; Maggie AU YEUNG Sin-yi; CHOW Mei-nam; Shanna FORREST; HUI Man-ling