Women’s Rugby

Tackling the Sevens

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:40pm

They may not look aggressive, but don't be deceived: when Hong Kong's women take to that traditionally male preserve, the rugby ground, all the aggression built up during the working week comes pouring out.''

The aggression is there,'' says Molly Emrick, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's Women's Rugby Section.

''I've never been so aggressive until I came here.

''In California, every Friday by 4pm we went off to have a beer. We worked nine to five. It was much more relaxed.

''Here you work late and work harder. One falls into it very easily,'' says Ms Emrick, a marketing executive for a computer company.

In the four years since women first began playing rugby here, their game has come a long way. On March 26, local women players will be part of the annual Rugby Sevens tournament for the first time in its 19-year history.

Two top local women's teams, Valley and Police, will play a demonstration game at the Hong Kong Stadium in front of an international audience of 40,000.

While rugby remains primarily a men's sport, it is increasingly popular with women.

''In the summer of 1990, it was just a group of girls getting together and playing around. There were no teams,'' says Ms Emrick, There are now nine teams, up from seven in the first official season in 1992. About half the team members are expatriates, half Chinese. They vary widely in age and profession.

''We have players who are still at school; the youngest one is only 13. There's also a player whose daughter is already 14, '' Ms Emrick says.

To prepare for the demonstration game, Valley and Police have been training three times a week for the past few weeks.

''If the Sevens appearance is well-received this year, we hope that next year we can field a Hong Kong national side and invite another national team, maybe from Asia, '' says Ms Emrick.

She became an avid rugby player after being introduced to it by a friend, the former chairman of the Women's Rugby Section, Cathy Rothschild.

''It's a big release. You focus all your effort on a good tackle, not with the intention of hurting somebody, but just for the exertion and energy,'' says Ms Emrick, a one-time American Football fan.

When she was growing up, she often found herself the only girl involved in boys' games.

''I was always the one girl there, kicking the rough ground.'' Ms Emrick, who says she's a huge promoter of women, whatever they choose to tackle, believes the rapid rise of women's rugby is a welcome one: ''This shows that women can do anything men can do,'' she says.

But there are differences between the men's and women's teams; the men playing 15-a-side and the women seven-a-side.

Ms Emrick says the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union is very supportive of the women's game, but some men feel that the sport should be their preserve: ''Some people are supportive, open to change. Some are set in their ways,'' she says.

As head of the women's rugby section, she is hoping to see more Chinese women players, so the imported sport will survive beyond 1997.

Many of the game's Chinese players find it challenging because of the strength required. That's what enticed bank employee Teresa Leung to immerse herself in the sport over the past four years.

''We practise once every week. It's tough but lots of fun. We've become friends and know people from other teams as well,'' says 25-year-old Ms Leung, who like Ms Emrick, was introduced to the sport by a friend.

Her team, DeA, is an all-Chinese team - one of two.

''A few years ago, we couldn't engage in any competition because there were just not enough teams around,'' Ms Leung says.

The first members of DeA have always been sporty, having known each other through programmes associated with the Duke of Edinburgh Awards (DeA - the origin of their team's name).

When the team began some members' families stopped them playing what they regard as a dangerous sport.

''Some married members got their husbands worried for the same reason,'' Ms Leung says.

She considers herself lucky since her family has not objected to her playing and says they've had no cause for concern: ''There haven't been any major injuries among us so far.'' Ms Leung is looking forward to the Sevens and the high profile that Hong Kong's women players will at last have there.