The Hong Kong, China women’s sevens squad taking part in the Tokyo Olympics repechage in Monaco on 19-20 June was announced today by the Hong Kong Rugby Union. Twelve teams from all over the world will be vying to reach the final with the top two teams from Monaco booking their tickets to Tokyo.
After 18 months without international competition due to the pandemic, coach Iain Monaghan has emerged from the Hong Kong Sports Institute with a squad full of the HKRU’s established short code stars and some new finds.
Melody Li Nim-yan and Natasha Olson-Thorne will front the group as co-captains at the repechage, where Hong Kong is grouped with France, Colombia and Madagascar (Pool C). Russia, Argentina, Mexico and Samoa are in Pool A, with Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan, Jamaica and Tunisia in Pool B.
The women have not played international sevens since the Asian Olympic qualifiers in November 2019, but have managed the uncertainties of training in a pandemic with aplomb. That lengthy enforced layoff has not put the squad off its stride according to Monaghan:
“We have had 18 months to prepare, so we are as ready as we possibly can be. You train to play and we are as prepared as we can be; I think the girls have collectively had enough of intra-squad games and pushing their individual mental and physical levels to their limits.
“We play because we love the game and this is the first opportunity we have had to play on a global stage in a while. There is a lot of excitement, and I am sure a wee bit of trepidation because it has been a while, but we back ourselves and the process that we have to navigate all of that,” he added.
The core that has driven Hong Kong selection in recent seasons remains intact with Li and Olson-Thorne joined by a cadre of veterans in Nam Ka-man, Jessica Ho Wai-on, Chong Ka-yan, Stephanie Chan and Vivian Poon. Recent seasons have seen a steady stream of emerging youth players make the grade, with Chloe Chan amongst the latest baby faced assassins to join the group. Chan holds her spot in the group for Monaco and is joined by another National Age Grade programme graduate in Shanna Forrest.
Forrest was included in the Hong Kong development tour to Malaysia in 2019 where she performed well. An ensuing injury and the pandemic have conspired to keep her from a first senior sevens cap, but she is included in the final 13 person travelling squad, which will be culled to 12 before the tournament.
“She has been with us at the HKSI for the better part of a year now and we have been working closely to support that transition to full-time rugby, which she has managed really well. It is exciting to see how she is developing and this is another big opportunity for her,” said Monaghan.
Another potential first cap is Hong Kong Scottish star Hui Man-ling, with the former Hong Kong track and field athlete boasting the out and out speed that is so vital in sevens.
There is a third new name on the squad sheet, but it belongs to an old head in one of Hong Kong’s mainstay fifteens players and former captains, Chow Mei-nam. The gritty Hong Kong No8 has doubled down on her preparations to position herself for a possible first sevens cap.
“With the RWC being postponed it gave her an opportunity to refocus on sevens. She is tall and brings the physicality we need, and some significant experience,” said Monaghan.
“This is not going to be a normal tournament; you are going for the Olympics, and it will be heavily policed around Covid, the players need to be confident in themselves to deal with that pressure. You can see Mei-nam’s leadership quality just in the way she carries herself in training. She has transitioned to sevens fitness really well. She likes to play with the ball in hand, and has a good understanding of when to be direct and when to manage contact.”
“Since I have been here we have never had a chance to work with the XVs players because of their squad priorities in terms of RWC or ARC, so it is a huge bonus to have a player of that calibre available.”
Monaghan is pleased with his final group for Monaco: “We have a real good blend and I am happy with where we are at; all of these girls have travelled the world and played in big tournaments in different guises. They have really stepped it up in training, but you will never know until you are in tournament how well we have prepared. But from what I see they are ready and prepared for the challenge ahead.
“We are ambitious. We definitely believe in ourselves and that we can put the kind of performances in that we need to, to get to the position where we can be pushing for qualification to the Olympics.
Hong Kong, China Women’s Sevens Squad: Olympic Repechage (June 19-20, Monaco)
Melody LI Nim-yan; Natasha OLSON-THORNE; CHONG Ka-yan; Vivian POON Hoi-yan; NAM Ka-man; Stephanie CHAN Chor-ki; Jessica HO Wai-on; CHAN, Chloe; Agnes TSE Wing-kiu; Winnie AU YEUNG Sin-yi; CHOW Mei-nam*; Shanna FORREST*; HUI Man-ling.
*Potential senior sevens squad debut