Hong Kong must use 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup golden ticket to create sustainable domestic base
Women’s Premiership dominated by Gai Wu and Valley as bottom sides at times struggle to field a team
There’s no doubting there is plenty of room for improvement in the KPMG Women’s Premiership.
Even less in question is the fact that now – with Hong Kong’s first ever World Cup berth on the horizon – is the time to make hay as far as strengthening the competition for years to come.
Without trying to put a downer on what is the biggest week of the domestic season, the gulf between the top and bottom teams in the Premiership is a lot bigger than it should be.
Forfeits were up on previous years this season and it’s not a good look when two of the three quarter-finals are called off because teams are short.
Injuries were the main reason for teams like Kowloon and Comvita City Sparkle not being able to front up at times, but the underlying issue is depth and the fact they only won one game each this season means there is plenty of work to be done.
Yes, Saturday’s grand championship decider between Societe Generale Valley and CPM Gai Wu Falcons will be a belter, but any mug punter could have picked the quinella months ago.
As it is, a lot of the games are not at the standard and intensity that national players preparing for a World Cup need to be playing in.
There is the Super Series – which takes the best 50 or so players and pits them against each other – which will fire up again after the Premiership season, but one feels the players need more than that if they are to make World Cup appearances a regular thing.
On the positive side, the biggest year in the history of Hong Kong rugby is just getting started and the women’s game is on the move across the globe.
Dominic Rumbles, head of communications at World Rugby, tweeted this week that women’s participation has increased by 142 per cent since 2012 to 2.2 million players.
— dominic rumbles (@dominicrumbles) March 7, 2017
World Rugby chief Brett Gosper also weighed in, saying women now make up more than a quarter of total players in World Rugby member unions.
On top of that, the sport’s governing body marked International Women’s Day on Wednesday by announcing its #BeBoldForChange initiative, an eight-year plan aimed at furthering the profile, development, sustainability and success of the women’s game.
So it’s all happening and Hong Kong best be on board for the ride, or their chances of fronting up for the next World Cup are slim.
Reality is that they got a bit lucky in qualifying for Ireland due to the fact Kazakhstan – traditionally Asia’s second-best team – were out of the running.
Due to administration issues they didn’t compete in the Asia Rugby Championship, meaning they could not qualify.
That is unlikely to be the case next time around and Hong Kong will need to take another step or two up to again challenge for a berth.
Playing in this year’s World Cup is a good starting point, but they will need strength in depth and some serious quality coming into the squad during the next cycle.
With the women’s game situated as it is in Hong Kong – with no professional 15s programme and very few recruits coming to the city – a strong domestic competition seems the best way forward.
Hong Kong coach Jo Hull believes being in a World Cup will ensure that the profile of the game is raised naturally as people connect rugby with the opportunity to feature in a global event.
But the union won’t be relying on organic growth alone, with Sam Feausi, the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s women’s rugby development manager, outlining how the union plans to make the most of their golden ticket.
“Next season we are looking at a lot more coaching clinics aimed at the premiership clubs and we are looking at providing more coaching and financial support,” she said.
“We have proposed a few things, they are not confirmed yet, but we have proposed running promotion events at schools, going around to different tertiary institutions and schools to promote the game.”
All very positive stuff and here’s hoping all goes to plan, because one feels if prospective players don’t buy in this year, it’ll be even tougher to drum up interest when the World Cup hangover sets in.