Women’s Rugby

A blend of youth and experience

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:54pm

Fourteen years separates the oldest and youngest players in the Hong Kong women's team - a dynamic which has its share of advantages and challenges.

In a sport requiring speed, power and aggression, senior player Chrissy Gordon says youth definitely has its benefits. "Sevens is a young person's game," says Gordon, who will be 35 in May.

The Canada-born Hong Kong resident is noticing the difference that comes with age. "There are a lot more injuries and it's taking a lot more time to recover," she concedes. "It's hard trying to keep up with the youngsters."

One such speedster is Ivy Kwong, 24, who was selected after spending two years in the development squad. She believes her quick feet and hardworking nature earned her the spot, despite her relative inexperience. "I never give up on any chance, especially in defence," she says.

But in a sport requiring split-second decisions - matches comprise two halves of just seven minutes each - wisdom and experience are invaluable. "I know the short-cuts and have the game knowledge," says Gordon.

Senior players also bring "mental toughness" to the game, according to team captain Royce Chan Leong-sze. Combined with youthful energy, that makes for a powerful mix. "You have to push yourself to your limit out there," says Chan, 34. "We can transfer that [mentally tough] environment to the younger players, and the younger players can transfer the extra energy back to us. That's what we ask from them."

It's a recipe resulting from concerted efforts by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union to develop women's rugby over the years, bridging the gap between junior and senior rugby and breathing fresh talent into the sport.

It is also a combination that is strongly supported by women's coach Kane Jury. "The younger players have a real hunger to learn and be better," he enthuses. "They play rugby for a reason - the camaraderie - and they really want to be there."

Meanwhile, players like Chan and Gordon - who Jury maintains keep improving with age - bring their game knowledge to bear on the field and transfer it to their younger teammates by guiding the play.

Among Jury's pick of the young talent is powerhouse Natasha Olsen Thorne and Melody Li, both just 20. Eyes are also on Rose Fong, 23, who recently returned to Hong Kong after playing under-19s rugby in England and was named in the English sevens squad.

Li, who has been playing contact rugby for only two years and is another player to emerge from the development ranks, looks up to senior players such as Chan and Gordon. "I'm a bit nervous," she admits, but believes the senior players will help to calm her pre-match nerves.

It's a potentially formidable combination of youth, pace, power and experience. The question is - can Chan and her team put it all together this week?