[Hong Kong, 13 April 2023]: The Hong Kong Rugby Union announced the men’s and women’s sevens squads set to compete in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series at the end of April. The Series is part of the qualification process for a spot on the seven-leg HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2024 and is played across two combined (men’s and women’s) tournaments on 21-23 April and 28-30 April in the Markotter Stadium in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Hong Kong, China Sevens head coach Paul John and men’s coach Jevon Groves have announced the squads for the two tournaments with 15 men and 16 women named ahead of departure on Friday.
All 13 of the men’s team that won the Shield at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens - the team’s first medal-winning appearance in the tournament since 2010 - are named for South Africa, along with forward battler Michael Coverdale and powerful wing Harry Sayers.
Winger Salom Yiu will mark his record-setting 71st sevens tournament for Hong Kong, China in South Africa while Seb Brien will look to carry on from an impressive performance in Hong Kong where he finished as the first ever local player to lead the Hong Kong Sevens try scoring table with six across the weekend.
The winner of the men’s Challenger Series will book a spot in a final four-team tournament alongside the three teams that will be eliminated from the World Series as it slims down to 12 men’s teams next season. That tournament will be played on 20-21 May at Twickenham Stadium in London.
Hong Kong, China are grouped with Chile, Papua New Guinea and Italy in the 12-team men’s competition.
After a lengthy process including the Borneo Sevens and Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in March and the Singapore tournament last week, nearly two dozen players had an opportunity to press their cases for the Challenger Series’ 15-man travel squad.
“We’ve used 21 senior players over the last four months and those three tournaments gave us a chance to see everyone play and to select the players we think best suits this tournament,” said men’s coach Jevon Groves.
“There were some tough decisions given that everyone has put their hands up over the past three tournaments, but this squad has the balance we need for what we expect will be a high attrition competition, with two three-day tournaments on back-to-back weekends,” added Groves.
This is Hong Kong’s third appearance in the Challenger Series, finishing as runners-up to Japan in the inaugural series in 2020 and fifth place in 2022.
“This is the event that we are targeting to win, and the last three months has given us a good opportunity to prepare and select, now it is about showing what we can do and getting the results we want,” added Groves.
It is the first time that the Hong Kong, China women’s squad has qualified for a Challenger Series place, and the latest in a season of debuts for the team after making their first appearance at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
The winner of the women’s Challenger will advance directly to the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series as one of 12 teams on the international circuit. John has selected another group brimming with experience with 10 of the 12-woman squad from the Hong Kong Sevens retained.
Squad lynchpins Natasha Olson-Thorne and Melody Li Nim-yan will once again co-captain the squad in South Africa while dynamo Chong Ka-yan has also returned to fitness. Nam Ka-man, Jess Ho Wai-on, Chloe Chan, Maggie Au Yeung Sin-yi, and Stephanie Chan Chor-ki all provide added nous.
The next generation of elite Hong Kong Sevens athletes is also on display with Agnes Tse Wing-kiu and Rosie Wright retained from the side that performed exceedingly well on its big stadium debut earlier this month, while Cherly So Yee-kei and Shanna Forrest both come into the wider squad.
Adding further cohesion to what is already a tight-knit group, the squad features two sets of siblings with Micayla and Chloe Baltazar selected alongside Gabriella and Georgia Rivers. Micayla is the lone player from this group who appeared at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens at end March. The squad will now be looking to return in its own rights as a full member of the World Series in 2024.
For head coach Paul John there is a lot to build on from the team’s performance in Hong Kong: “This is the first time for the women to participate in the Challenger Series and we are very excited to be participating. It is a great opportunity for us to carry on from the Hong Kong tournament. We should be proud of how we played in Hong Kong. We won our kick offs and our defence was good. Now the challenge is for us to make that our baseline performance, to keep that level of progress and to keep improving,” said John.
Hong Kong, China Men’s Sevens Travel Squad for HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series (April 2023): Max WOODWARD (Capt.); Seb BRIEN; James CHRISTIE; Michael COVERDALE; Max DENMARK; Liam HERBERT; Callum McCULLOUGH; Alex McQUEEN; Pierce MACKINLAY-WEST; MAK Kwai-chung; Alessandro NARDONI; Harry SAYERS; Hugo STILES; Russell WEBB; Salom YIU Kam-shing.
Hong Kong, China Women's Sevens Travel Squad for HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series (April 2023): Natasha OLSON-THORNE (Co-Capt); Melody LI Nim-yan (Co-Capt.); Maggie AU YEUNG Sin-Yi; Micayla BALTAZAR; Chloe BALTAZAR; Chloe CHAN; CHAN Chor-ki, Stephanie; CHONG Ka-yan; Shanna FORREST; Jessica HO Wai-on; NAM Ka-man; Gabriella RIVERS; Georgia RIVERS; SO Yee-kei,Cherly; TSE Wing-kiu, Agnes; Rosanna WRIGHT.