Hong Kong look to grasp Women’s Rugby World Cup chance with both hands in home qualifier

Jo Hull’s side entertain Fiji and Japan in December, with two places at the 2017 tournament in Ireland available

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 10:45pm

Hong Kong are ready to grab their 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup dream with “both hands” according to coach Jo Hull ahead of December’s key qualifiers against Fiji and Japan in Hong Kong.

Hull’s side host the three-team tournament that will determine the final two teams from Asia/Oceania for next year’s 12-team world championship in Ireland.

Hong Kong begin their bid for a maiden World Cup appearance on December 9 against Fiji, who beat Papua New Guinea 37-10 in the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship at the start of November to progress to the final stage of qualification.

Japan then face Fiji on 13 December before Hong Kong’s tie with the Asian champions completes the round robin fixtures four days later.

“It is an amazing opportunity to go to a World Cup that I don’t think the players have had before and there is a real belief in the team that it is not a dream anymore and we are trying to grab it with both hands,” said Hull.

“These players know they need to get everything right against Fiji, which means our set pieces and most importantly the contact area and breakdown, are our key focus. The players are excited, but we know we will need to earn this.”

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Hull has named an expanded 31-player squad in preparation for the December qualifiers, with Hong Kong entertaining Kazakhstan in two training games next week.

Hong Kong welcome back experienced forwards Royce Chan Leong-sze and Christy Cheng Ka-chi to the squad along with new prop Wong Yuen-shan, while USRC Tigers’ Jessica Ho Wai-on is a new addition to the backs.

“We are looking at players who are performing at the moment, whether it be with their club or in the Super Series, and that is what we are judging our selection on. The players know that and have bought into it,” added Hull.

“The squad has worked very hard over the summer with a series of training camps and strength and conditioning sessions to help minimise errors, but also to bring out the style of rugby we want to develop.

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“We are very positive in our approach to the qualifiers and the Fiji game is everything as it is the first game and a win would position us very well to advance to the World Cup.”

The league-wide representative competition, the Super Series, kick-started the final preparations for the World Cup qualifiers, with around 50 players nominated by their Premiership clubs taking part.

“The Super Series helped us draw a line in the sand as to how we wanted to play and the players were then able to take that into training,” said Hull.

“It has also been encouraging to see the club games getting to a higher level, but we still need to prepare for that step up to international rugby that the Super Series helps to provide.”

Rounding out the squad’s preparations, Hong Kong will face a Kazakhstan side that appeared at the 2014 World Cup in France in two training games on Wednesday and Sunday as part of a key week of training ahead of the qualifiers.

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“Kazakhstan are a tough, physical side who are good at running,” said Hull. “We thought they would be good preparation for playing Fiji in that they will offer a similar competition to what Fiji will look like in terms of their physicality, and their desire to play an offload game and keep the ball in play as much as possible.”

Fiji scored six tries in their win over Papua New Guinea in the inaugural Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship in Suva as the hosts played their first test in 10 years and the visitors their first ever.

“We saw that game and we are aware that rugby is in the blood in Fiji so they understand the game quite well,” added Hull.

“Fiji are big and strong, so we need to go into that first game knowing how we want to play against them. We haven’t played them before in fifteens and that will pose some challenges in our preparations.”

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In stark contrast, Hong Kong know Japan extremely well having lost 39-3 and 30-3 in a shortened Asia Rugby Championship earlier this year.

“Japan are fast and like to play a high tempo game, but we are confident that we are approaching both games with the objective of finishing in the top two,” added Hull.

The 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup takes place in Ireland from August 9-26 next year, with the winner of the qualifiers in Hong Kong going on to face the hosts who were fourth placed finishers in 2014) as well as France and Australia in pool C.

The runners-up in Hong Kong will take on 2014 World Cup runners-up Canada, New Zealand and Wales in pool A.