Hong Kong, China sevens squads narrowly miss out on tickets to Tokyo
The Hong Kong, China sevens squads narrowly missed out on qualifying for Tokyo 2020 at the World Rugby Olympic repechage Sunday in Monaco. Despite the year-plus international layoff, both sides were in contention with the men reaching the knockout semi finals, losing to Ireland 28-5, and the women reaching one of two qualifier finals in their tournament, before losing to a rampant France for a second time on Sunday, 51-0.
Today’s results highlight the crucial advantage in experience gained by HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series squads with the French men and women, Russia and Ireland all figuring in the late stages in Monaco, alongside Hong Kong. France and Russia advance to Tokyo from the women’s bracket.
Hong Kong had a hard time in the women’s qualifier final against Series veterans France, whom they had already lost to 55-0 in their final pool match this morning. They rebounded from that loss with an accomplished 24-5 win over Argentina to reach the final.
Hong Kong went down early to Argentina, but co-captain Natasha Olson-Thorne and speedster Chong Ka-yan refused to accept defeat, conjuring back-to-back scores from 50 metres out to claim the lead by halftime, 12-5. Chloe Chan added a try in the 8th minute and the SAR seven were clinical down the stretch, setting up Olson-Thorne’s brace and advancing to the Tokyo ticket game.
But Hong Kong’s Olympic dreams came to a quick end against France, who entered the semis having scored 206 points without conceding one. The French were again unstoppable running up a 27-point lead after seven minutes before finishing 51-0.
After nearly two years out of international action and the blooding of three new caps this weekend Monaghan was justifiably proud of his team’s performance, saying, “I am super proud of the efforts of this team. It has been a long 585 days since our last competition, but we have come out and showed a lot of improvement in certain areas.
“As a team, we proved to ourselves that we can come through the hardest of circumstances and compete. To be in a final in our first tournament back, and to be eight minutes away from the Olympics will fuel a lot of ambition for the next Olympic and Rugby World Cup cycles I’m sure.
“It is also a great testament to Asian rugby to have two teams in the finals [Ed: Kazakhstan lost to Russia in the other qualification final] competing with the World Series teams. It shows that we can achieve a lot if we continue in the direction we are heading,” Monaghan added.
Hong Kong Head sevens coach Paul John was equally effusive: “I can’t fault any of the players for their performance here this weekend. Hong Kong Rugby has done themselves a world of good in this environment. For our first hit outs in 15 months for the boys and 18 months for the girls, you know and the first games against international opponents, to be there or thereabouts at the final hurdle is a great achievement.”
In the men’s semi, Hong Kong could not keep up with an Irish side first forged in the fires of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens qualifiers. Ireland looked the class of the competition from the jump, with 126 points in pool play and the weekend’s two top try scorers in Terry Kennedy and Jordan Conroy - who started the Hong Kong match with 15 tries between them, and finished with 17.
Ireland put Conroy clear out wide from the kick-off and there was no answer for his pace as the men in green jumped ahead 7-0. The Irish doubled that total before three minutes were gone, and Conroy secured his brace on half time to push the gap to 21-nil.
Hong Kong performed admirably in holding Ireland to just one score in the second half, and converted their best chance late in the game with an attacking scrum on the Irish line. The pack produced clean ball and scrumhalf Cado Lee Ka-to moved it wide for a Tom McQueen crash that was stopped just short. Salom Yiu and Max Denmark went in well to clear out for Liam Herbert, who dove over for a good team try to put Hong Kong on the board 28-5 before the final hooter.
“We met the two best teams in the tournament and I think it showed the difference in that step up to playing against an Ireland or a France,” said John.
“It does show how important it is to have that experience on the Series, that week in and week out competition and big game moments. We are probably disappointed to not have played a bit better against Ireland, and to be four tries to one against, which was the same margin as three years ago in the qualifiers in Hong Kong is disappointing, but we have just got to learn from that now.
“Hopefully we can get more international competition now, and prepare for some very big tournaments at the end of the year with the Asian series and Singapore and Hong Kong Sevens,” John 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* * First senior sevens caps