Hong Kong women take giant step forward with Bowl glory
After two defeats, the side undergo rapid transformation to steam roll Singapore and overcome the bigger Kenyans
It was not the result they desired, but Hong Kong walked away with more than just the Bowl championship at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Women's Sevens yesterday - they gained a monumental shift in their game.
Improvement was obvious from the now-professional team in pool games against World Cup runners-up Canada and Asia's top-ranked Kazakhstan, only a quivering confidence and odd lapses costing them the wins and a chance to compete in the Plate.
It was as if a different team took the field in the second half of the day. They punished Singapore 50-0 and grappled confidently in the Bowl against Kenya, a team almost double their size, winning 33-7.
"I'm very proud of them," said coach Anna Richards. "It was disappointing not to have had a chance at the Plate - the girls think and know they could have done better.
"It was a tough draw and it wasn't like we didn't play well … I understand it was the best result Hong Kong has ever had [at the tournament]."
Richards' aim was for her charges to "improve every game", and they did. In the pool game against [eventual Cup winners] Canada, they matched the Maple Leafs try for try in the second half, conceding the game in a respectable 19-5 loss, and managed to step up the intensity against Kazakhstan, despite losing 12-7.
"Now we just have to keep on improving," said Richards. "I told them, 'This is what you're capable of. You're capable of winning, you're capable of footing it against the big teams'.
"It's skills and it's knowing the process. And once it's instinctive, it's going to be even better."
Yesterday's performances made all the sacrifices over the past year worthwhile.
"We had a really big step up today," said proud captain, Royce Chan Leong-sze, 35. "It's not the ranking that we wanted, but I think it's a good result."
Natasha Olsen Thorne, 21, said: "Our confidence has increased tremendously - passing, tackling and general game understanding."
Conviction has now replaced hesitation.
"We're more confident in contact situations ... coming up against big girls, we've got the confidence from wrestling that we can get them down," said Rose Fong Siu-lan.
"[Against Canada] we felt like we could have been better - and it already felt like a huge improvement," said Christine Gordon, 35. "Even the game against Kazakhstan … before they used to smash us. Now were battling with them for third place in Asia."
Without pause, Richards is firmly focused on the task ahead: the Asian Games in September.
Before a much-deserved rest, they play a friendly today against Japan and potentially Brazil.
"The next phase is to focus on each individual player ... their strength or speed for example," said Richards.