Hong Kong women relish chance to battle at ‘mini Olympics’
Anna Richards’ squad face uphill fight chasing single Rio Games spot but are determined to perform strongly
The Hong Kong’s women’s team will be looking to soak up the experience of what coach Anna Richards has described as a “mini Olympics” at this weekend’s repêchage in Dublin.
Like the men a week ago, Hong Kong will be vying with 15 other teams for the final spot in Rio.
Along with HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series core teams Russia, Ireland and Spain, little-known sides such as Trinidad & Tobago and Madagascar will also be competing.
“I think it is going to be really cool,” Richards said. “We all stay at the same venue and you get to sit down and eat with all these people. It will be kind of like a mini Olympics.”
While Hong Kong face an uphill battle to earn a spot in the actual Olympics, Richards is pleased with where her squad are situated.
With a strong line-up that includes eight of the players who helped Hong Kong to a semi-final berth at the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens in April, Richards is buoyant ahead of what will be a gruelling two days.
“It’s a pretty exciting squad,” she said. “I think we have got the calibre of players that we can do very well in this tournament. They are all very excited.”
Adding to the buzz in the Hong Kong camp is the return from long-term injuries of captain Christy Cheng Ka-chi and the skilful Cindy Yuen Lok-yee.
“I’m pretty happy to get back into training with the girls again,” Cheng said. “Physically I’m a little bit up and down, there are good days and bad days, but I’m pretty happy at the moment.”
Yuen is playing for the first time in over 12 months after working her way back from a shoulder injury.
Cheng believes Hong Kong’s underdog status will work in their favour, ensuring they are not playing under a weight of expectation like some of their opponents.
“Everyone’s dream is to go to the Olympics,” she said. “You can’t think too far ahead to be scared.”
Hong Kong – seeded fourth – face Argentina, Kazakhstan and Cook Islands in pool D – a group loaded with potentially tricky match-ups.
“Kazakhstan are a little bit bigger than us, they are confrontational so it is just about us getting our head around them,” Richards said.
“The Cook Islands were banded fourth but I think they are stronger than that. A lot of them are New Zealand-based players.”
While the Cook Islands are a bit of an unknown, Argentina and Kazakhstan are not – Hong Kong played Kazakhstan in last November’s Olympic qualifiers and Argentina at the Hong Kong Women's Sevens in April.
Richards admits she is unsure what to expect if her side progresses to day two.
“I think we have got the capacity to beat a lot of those teams up at this tournament,” she said.
“Whether we can take the step to the [Women's] World Series teams, this is where we find out. We will be probably one of the fitter teams there.”
Hong Kong women’s sevens squad
Christy Cheng Ka-chi (c), Amelie Seure, Candy Cheng Tsz-ting, Chong Ka-yan, Lee Tsz-ting, Melody Li Nim-yan, Lindsay Varty, Natasha Olson-Thorne (vc), Nam Ka-man, Aggie Poon Pak-yan, Stephanie Cuvelier, Cindy Yuen Lok-yee