Girls are keen to give it a try
Girls make up between 7 and 10 per cent of any year group from age five to 11 in mini rugby, and it's a growing field. At last month's Te Aka Aorere tournament, a mixed event, the girls were no less competitive than the boys.
But as a member of the Hong Kong women's team points out, it's a struggle to keep girls in the sport as they grow into their teens.
Fiona Foxon, 27, has been on the Hong Kong women's national team for the past four years. She began playing rugby at Discovery Bay International School before continuing in Taipei and at the University of Virginia. She says there's been a huge buy-in from parents and coaches to girls playing mini rugby in recent years. But there are certain ages when girls drop out, and the union is trying to reverse this.
'Some parents are worried about the girls doing contact rugby with boys [from the age of eight],' she says. 'They fear it will be too rough. At that stage they can join girls-only teams if they prefer. But they can learn so much from rugby. They build leadership skills, team playing, and the game gives them confidence and they learn how to stand up for themselves. It's certainly made me more resilient.'
Chloe Baltazar, 11, certainly enjoyed the difficulties that the sport presented. A pupil at King George V School, she was inspired to take up mini rugby after attending Hong Kong Sevens matches, and played for 'Wales' during the Te Aka Aorere tournament last month.
'I find the game challenging and difficult,' says Chloe, who plays for the DeA Tigers and prefers a second-row position in the scrum.
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has put a lot of effort into convincing the parents that it's a safe sport for their kids, Foxon says, and it's bearing fruit.
'What's also good now is that the younger girls are beginning to see role models - older girls playing in their local schools and within their community. You have a lot of involvement from the senior women coming to mini rugby tournaments.'
But it's crunch time for the young players when they turn 12 and decide whether to join the older all-girl teams. 'At age 12, the girls and boys leave mini rugby and that is where the union is working very hard not to lose girls,' says Foxon, who coaches under-19s girls. 'At that stage they have so much to do in terms of schoolwork and other activities, their schedules are so packed. Rugby is just another thing on the list.'