Hong Kong women must beat Japan to make semis of Sevens
New captain Natasha Olson-Thorne leads by example as the local side finish day one with wins over Sri Lanka and Thailand but suffer a narrow loss to Argentina
Natasha Olson-Thorne led from the front as Hong Kong finished day one of the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens with their sights firmly fixed on a semi-final berth.
The home side must beat Japan in their final pool match on Friday and maintain their points difference advantage over Argentina to qualify for the finals.
It was a big day for 23-year-old Olson-Thorne, who captained Hong Kong for the first time at her sixth Sevens appearance.
In the build-up to the tournament, Olson-Thorne spoke of remaining calm and controlled in the role and did just that on an up and down day for the locals.
The winger was one of Hong Kong’s best and coach Anna Richards praised her ability to mix leadership with her playing responsibilities. “She’s a great person to have leading by example,” said Richards. “She’s a quality player and she’s great to have on the pitch. I thought she did really well.”
To captain Hong Kong is a dream realised for the US-born Olson-Thorne, leading out her teammates in front of her loved ones was the icing on the cake.
“It’s a big honour,” she said. “It was really good. It’s a special team to be a part of, the girls are really supportive and I’ve got a big team at my back.”
It certainly wasn’t all plain sailing for Hong Kong, with a first up 45-0 demolition job of Sri Lanka followed by a patchy performance in a 12-5 loss to Argentina.
“That’s a very good confidence builder for us,” Richards said. “We needed to win and we needed to win well. We just needed to trust our systems and not panic.”
Aggie Poon Pak-yan was dangerous throughout the day for Hong Kong and Colleen Tjosvold and Christine Gordon were lively, however it was youngster Lee Tsz-ting that caught Richards eye.
“It was good to see BB [Lee], the debutant, play well,” Richards said. “She’s got a lot of skills, she’s a good little ball player and she’s good for us because she can cover a few positions.”
France were the most impressive pool A side on the first day and look semi-final bound, while South Africa and Kazakhstan both notched two wins and are a chance for the next round.
Pool B is wide open, with Hong Kong, Japan and Argentina all a chance to progress.
Olson-Thorne remained confident Hong Kong still have a big part to play in the tournament, making it clear the team will settle for nothing less than a trip to the final at Hong Kong Stadium.
“We are looking forward to going in with all guns blazing and smashing it,” she said.
While rugby is the immediate focus for Olson-Thorne, she has one eye on the future despite her young age.
She completed a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Health at The University of Hong Kong last December and a masters degree is on the cards.
On a more leisurely note, Olson-Thorne hopes to pursue another of her loves when she can find the time. “I really love scuba diving,” she said. “I haven’t done it for a while and I wish I could get back to doing it at some point.”
It is clear that in everything she does, family comes first for Olson-Thorne, and she believes the family-like atmosphere of thewomen’s squad has played a big role in their continued improvement.
“It’s a special team to be a part of,” she said. “We’re the first group of girls to go full-time and that’s a big dream for a lot of us. Putting it forward on the pitch in front of our family and friends is one of the biggest things.”
After meeting Olson-Thorne, it comes as no surprise that she plans to captain in a similar fashion to how she goes about her business off the pitch.
“I want to try to be very calm and controlled and just try to keep the team together and moving forward,” she said.
“She works really hard and sets a really good example for the rest of the team,” Richards said. “She’s got a good rugby brain as well.”