By Lindsay Varty
Hong Kong women’s rugby team may be ranked 23rd in the world, but last year they beat Fiji in the qualifiers of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 and won a place in the top international rugby competition for women.
The team returned to the city having suffered five defeats at the finals in Ireland last month, but won admiration for their courage and persistence.
The squad of 28 faced opponents they had only ever admired on television, many of them double their weight and size. How would 52kg winger Chong Ka-yan fare against New Zealand’s 133kg prop Katie Mata’u? How would the non-professional World Cup virgins fair against the giants of the female rugby world?
When the Hong Kong team arrived for the three-week long tournament, they had already broken a number of records: they were the first Hong Kong representative team to appear at a 15s rugby World Cup, they were the only team with a female head coach, and their team included the oldest and shortest players in the entire tournament – Christine Gordon and Mak Ho-yee, respectively.
The minnows found themselves in Pool A, dubbed “the Pool of Death” owing its tough competition, alongside four time world champions New Zealand, 2014 runners up Canada and a strong Welsh team.
As predicted, it proved seriously challenging for the underdogs, with experienced teams blasting through Hong Kong’s defence and piling on the points. Eventual champions, the mighty New Zealand Black Ferns, scored a whopping 121-0 win, setting a World Cup record for biggest shutout in a pool game.
Despite the ugly scores, Coach Jo Hull was proud of her team: “[O]ur objectives going into the competition were bigger than winning or losing, we wanted to display how brave and resilient you have to be to play here and that Hong Kong never give up when it gets tough,” she told HKFP.
“I think we gained a huge amount of respect from the teams and the crowd by the way we kept fighting. That really showed when the New Zealand girls sang our team off the pitch at the end of the match.”
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) August 13, 2017
Hong Kong managed to gather some steam against Wales and Spain, scoring their first ever world cup points against Wales. Vice Captain Adrienne Garvey slotted a penalty to secure the first three points for Hong Kong, with aggressive centre Natasha Olson-Thorne and pint-sized speedster Chong Ka-yan both scoring tries shortly after.
Fly half Rose Hopewell-Fong scored a dramatic breakaway try against Spain but the Spaniards’ solid defense and feisty players proved too much for Hong Kong. Wales and Spain beat Hong Kong 39-15 and 31-7 respectively but analysts and spectators alike commented that Hong Kong had stepped up their game.
The final showdown was a battle of the two Asian teams, Hong Kong and Japan. Once again, Hong Kong lost out to a highly skilled Japanese team, ranked 14th in the world, and ended the tournament with a disappointing 44-7 loss.
Five games and five losses was certainly not what Hong Kong had hoped for but by the end of the tournament the team’s display of passion, bravery and devotion to the game and the city they love had impressed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a Hong Kong representative team”, beamed Robbie McRobbie, the CEO of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, “every single member of the squad brought huge credit on themselves and our city, and I believe they will have achieved a lasting legacy.”
The next Women’s Rugby World Cup will be held in 2021.
2017 Hong Kong squad
Forwards: Chow Mei-nam (c), Chan Ka-yan, Royce Chan Leong-sze, Chan Tsz-ching, Christy Cheng Ka-chi, Cheung Shuk-han, Christine Gordon, Lau Nga-wun, Lee Ka-shun, Pun Wai-yan, Amelie Seure, Winnie Siu Wing-ni, Karen So Hoi-ting, Tsang Sin-yan, Wong Yuen-shan
Backs: Chong Ka-yan, Laurel Chor Lik-fung, Kelsie Bouttle, Adrienne Garvey, Jessica Ho Wai-on, Rose Hopewell-Fong, Lau Sze-wa, Lee Tsz-ting, Mak Ho-yee, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Aggie Poon Pak-yan, Colleen Tjosvold, Lindsay Varty.
Replacements: Ho Hoi Lam, Ivy Kwong Sau Yan.
Lindsay Varty is a member of Hong Kong’s women’s rugby team