Natasha Olson-Thorne to make her senior debut as captain of Hong Kong Women’s Sevens
This year's Hong Kong Women's Rugby Sevens will take on extra significance for 23-year-old winger Natasha Olson-Thorne, with the young star set to captain the Hong Kong National Seven in an international tournament for the first time.
Despite her age, Olson-Thorne has already played in five Hong Kong Women's Rugby Sevens (HKWRS) and coach Anna Richards is confident Olson-Thorne will handle the added responsibility with aplomb.
"She works really hard and sets a really good example for the rest of the team," Richards said. "She's got a good rugby brain as well, so I think she will be able to handle it very well."
Olson-Thorne has been a crucial part of the Hong Kong backline in the sevens format for a long time and boasts experience that belies her age.She made her international sevens debut in Hong Kong in 2011 and has filled the vice-captaincy slot on a number of occasions, including during last year's Asia Rugby Sevens Series and Olympic qualifiers.
Olson-Thorne also skippered a Hong Kong development squad at the Margaret River Sevens early last year and is hopeful that, with a few tweaks to her game, she has what is takes to lead by example.
"I probably have to be a bit more vocal and I need to make sure I keep lifting the team up so we're in the right spot and in the right frame of mind," she said. "It's going to be interesting. I'm excited about it. I'm just hoping I can keep the team on the right track going in to the Sevens."
Olson-Thorne, who was born in the US but has spent 22 of her 23 years in Hong Kong, is plucky about the chances of the side she will lead into battle next weekend.
She hopes early form will give Hong Kong the momentum they need to improve on last year's semi-final loss. "Obviously our goal is to get into the stadium this year," she said.
"We're feeling quite positive going in and we're excited as well because it's our first tournament of this year. We want to start strong on day one like we did last year. We are looking forward to going in with all guns blazing and smashing it."
Ahead of her sixth HKWRS, Olson-Thorne is wary of the challenge that awaits and is ready to embrace the opportunity to play against some quality opposition.
This year's tournament features ten teams from around Asia. Hong Kong is in Pool B with Asia champions Japan, Argentina, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Pool A sees France, South Africa, Kazakhstan, China and Kenya. Both France and Japan are playing on this season's World Rugby Women's Sevens Series.
"One thing I really like about the Hong Kong Sevens is that we've got France and South Africa coming, we have Argentina coming, we have Kenya coming, so there's a lot of countries that we usually don't get a chance to play against that come and play in the Hong Kong Women's Sevens," she said.
"It's just nice to play against someone different, someone with a different style, and that really helps you to learn and develop."
Olson-Thorne first developed her love for rugby at the age of 15 at Sha Tin College after trying her hand at a number of other sports and quickly progressed from there to club rugby with the Flying Kukris.
The Flying Kukris' lack of numbers at under 19 level saw her move to Borrelli Walsh URSC Tigers, with her Hong Kong 15s debut coming in 2010.
Throughout the journey, Olson-Thorne has never struggled for motivation:"The reason that I play rugby is that it's fun and I enjoy it," she said. "I've always had a lot of sports in my family. My teammates motivate me as well. You can't play for a team that you don't like."
With an older sister and an older brother, as well as a younger brother, sport and family have gone hand-in-hand for Olson-Thorne and the HKWRS presents a unique opportunity.
"It's the one time when we get to play at home in front of a home crowd," Olson-Thorne said. "It's awesome being able to play in front of my family and friends."
Outside of rugby, Olson-Thorne is a qualified Divemaster and, after completing a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Health at The University of Hong Kong last year, is currently taking a break from study.
"When I'm not doing rugby now, I'm pretty much at home with my family and my cat just relaxing and having fun," she said. "I do want to pursue further education and try and get a masters degree. I also love scuba diving, so I might try and take that up again when I've got a bit more time. I don't really have a plan at the moment, I'm just kind of seeing how it goes at the moment."
The full Hong Kong Women's Sevens team selected for the HKWRS will be announced on 1 April.