Many an eyebrow has been raised at the prospect of women in competitive sport, particularly a “violent” sport such as full-contact rugby. Yes, we come home with the odd bruise and grazed knee, and I’m certainly no stranger to a sling, but for me and many other girls in Hong Kong, rugby has been a huge part of life and a healthy source of exercise, competition and pride. Today, more and more girls are taking to the sport and the girl’s game just keeps on growing. Having first picked up the sport as a 13-year-old, I’ve been playing rugby for half of my life and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. For many years, Sunday mornings meant watching my brother Rowan train with the Kai Tak Tigers up at King’s Park when it used to be a huge dust bowl with only a few sorry sprigs of grass identifying it as a “field” and not an urban beach. There were only so many sandcastles I could build on the sidelines before a few of the other sisters and I decided to have a go at rugby ourselves. About six of us assembled the following week, adorned in our brothers’ hand-me-downs and oversized boots and, with the help of some very patient coaches, we learned the basics of the game. Immediately, I was hooked and have been playing ever since. Girl’s rugby is now the fastest growing sport in Hong Kong and of the 4,000-plus mini rugby players who swarm across every pitch in Hong Kong on Sunday mornings, half of them are the fairer sex! Girls can now start playing rugby as young as four years old at any of the 20 mini rugby clubs in Hong Kong. Girls play alongside the boys until the under-9 age group when the sexes are split and they start competing in girls-only competitions. Once they reach the age of 12, they enter “youth rugby” and after they reach 18, they compete in the senior women’s league with the opportunity to be selected for the national women’s team. This is a far cry from just over a decade ago when girls could only play in the boys’ teams and were forced to quit once the game became “too rough”. Thanks to the recognition and development initiatives of the HKRFU and each of the rugby clubs in Hong Kong, women’s rugby has been able to flourish, with numbers proliferating year by year. Girls that show particular talent are plucked from their club teams and asked to join one of the national development teams – be it the Hong Kong women’s under 18s, the sevens development squad or even the full national sevens and 15s teams. Once coached by a few willing parent volunteers with a spattering of rugby knowledge under their belts, these girls are now trained by fully qualified rugby coaches and compete in international competitions with some of the top teams in Asia and the world. For many players (including myself) the overseas tours are one of the highlights of playing for the national teams. The Hong Kong Women’s representative teams have participated in competitions in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, India and Borneo, to name a few places. My very first tour for Hong Kong was to Uzbekistan – somewhere I never thought I’d go! In 2013, the Hong Kong Sports Institute began supporting both the Hong Kong Men’s and Women’s National Sevens teams in a bid to develop us for the Olympics in Rio 2016. The decision was music to the ears of our team, as it meant a full-time career in a sport that we love and to which we have dedicated so much time and effort. We ditched our day jobs, loosened our ties for the last time and turned “professional” in August. The Hong Kong rugby ladies are now among only a handful of professional women’s sevens teams in the world, a short list that includes the Netherlands, Australia, China, Canada and the USA. What’s more, New Zealand Black Ferns legend Anna Richards, who has played in and won the Women’s Rugby World Cup four times, is to become our coach. Today, as I walk through the doors of the revamped Hong Kong Sports Institute and into the huge state-of-the-art gym surrounded by Olympians and Hong Kong sport superstars, I glance back at my humble beginnings – when I first learned to pass backwards at Kai Tak – and I feel a thorough sense of pride and good fortune to have made my way here.