[Hong Kong, 27 April 2023]: The Hong Kong Rugby Union’s men’s and women’s sevens squads are preparing for the finale of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series tournament (28-30 April).
The winner of the women’s competition in South Africa will gain automatic promotion to next season’s HSBC World Rugby Series while the men’s winner will gain a spot in a four-team play-off with the 13-15th placed teams on the series to decide the single entry for next season.
After a ninth-placed finish in week one, the Hong Kong, China women’s squad, will be using the competition for much valued international competitive experience ahead of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series and Asian Games later this year.
Hong Kong Sevens head coach Paul John has made three changes to his squad as he seeks to get as many players experience as possible. Rosanna Wright, Chloe Baltazar and Agnes Tse make way for Shanna Forrest, Sabay Lynam, and the return of key player Chong Ka-yan in her first action since November.
“Ka-yan has recovered from injury and while we don’t plan on asking too much of her, she brings a lot of speed on the wing for us and a lot of experience. Hopefully, she can add edge to our attack a bit,” said John.
On their Challenger Series debut, the women closed out the opening competition on a positive note, something that coach John is looking to continue.
“We just want to keep building from the opening tournament. We won the last three games in a row, so we want to keep seeing that progression and to build on what we did on day two and three last week. Our defence was much better, we had more urgency in defence, and that in turn helped our attack, so we just want to keep improving.”
That improvement will be tested as Hong Kong are pooled with familiar rivals China, who won the bronze medal in week one; Poland who finished in fourth overall after losing to China 14-10; and Mexico, whom Hong Kong beat 15-12 in the 9th place play-off last week. Hong Kong will play Poland in the first match of the tournament on Friday at 15.00 local time. While typically the goal is to play more non-regional competition at overseas tournaments Coach John is looking forward to a chance at an pre-season hit-out against defending Asian Sevens champions China.
“Playing China is important in the build-up to what’s coming in September [Asian Games]. We need to learn from playing them. We have struggled over the last few years and don’t quite perform to our best against them and we need to change that,” added John.
The men’s seven kept their hopes of advancing to the latter qualification stages alive by taking bronze in a hard-fought opening tournament where they lost to eventual winners Tonga in the semi-final. Tonga and Germany are now ranked one and two overall with Hong Kong in third, and needing to move up the podium in week two.
That job won’t get any easier after being drawn in Pool C with fourth placed Belgium and Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea, who finished 9th and 10th respectively in Stellenbosch. Hong Kong beat Papua New Guinea 26-5 and edged Belgium 26-21 last weekend.
Coach Jevon Groves has made two key changes for tournament two with captain Max Woodward and winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing both being rested, while Callum McCullough and Harry Sayers come into the playing squad. Russell Webb will captain the squad with Seb Brien as vice-captain.
“Those [Max and Salom] are two really important players for us in every tournament, but they have had a lot of rugby of late and we also need them for the Asian series and Asian Games. Russell will captain the squad with support from Seb Brien as co-captain, but there is a massive amount of experience in the senior leadership group,” said Groves.
“Callum [McCullough] has now recovered from an injury he picked up in Singapore, and it is a welcome return for Harry who has not played since the last Asia Rugby Sevens Series, so we have two really good replacements coming in. The rest of the squad are looking ok. We have had a positive week and the guys are looking forward to that first game on Friday,” added Groves.
Groves understands that the mountain Hong Kong needs to climb is even higher than previously and expects even tougher competition from the group of gritty teams assembling in Stellenbosch.
“Every team has had a few weeks together and a tournament under their belts now, so we expect everyone to be stronger than week one. Our focus is on us, and putting our defence right in particular, and that is something we have been focusing on in practice. We will measure our success this weekend on our defence and not conceding as many points as we did in the opener.
“We had some really tough reflections on the Monday after the first tournament, and we challenged the boys on their approach and attitude, but we have drawn a line under that performance. We can’t focus on the Series outcomes now, because it relies on the results from other teams. We can just go out and put some pride in our performance and capitalize on that opportunity to improve from week one,” Groves added.
The men play Papua New Guinea at 16.28 on Friday 28 April. Hong Kong beat Papua New Guinea 26-5 last week.
Hong Kong, China Men’s Sevens Squad for HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series II (April 28-30): Russell WEBB (Capt.); Seb BRIEN (vice captain); James CHRISTIE; Michael COVERDALE; Max DENMARK; Liam HERBERT; Callum McCULLOUGH; Alex McQUEEN; Pierce MACKINLAY-WEST; MAK Kwai-chung; Alessandro NARDONI; Harry SAYERS; Hugo STILES.
Hong Kong, China Women’s Sevens Squad for HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series II (April 28-30 2023):
Natasha OLSON-THORNE (Co-Capt); Melody LI Nim-yan (Co-Capt.); Maggie AU YEUNG Sin-Yi; Micayla BALTAZAR; Chloe CHAN; CHAN Chor-ki, Stephanie; CHONG Ka-yan; Shanna FORREST; Jessica HO Wai-on; NAM Ka-man; Gabriella RIVERS; Georgia RIVERS, Sabay Lynam.