Hong Kong will take their first steps on the road to Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 with a Super Series match at the Hong Kong Football Club on Saturday that will form a key role in selection ahead of a tour to Spain next month.
Hong Kong’s women created a piece of history last December when they finished as runners-up to Japan in the Asia/Oceania qualifying tournament to become the first national team to qualify for a 15s World Cup.
Since then, coach Jo Hull and her team have been working with a training squad of 45 elite players, including members of the sevens team and the junior development group as well as players from the national age-grade programme with an eye on building strength in depth.
That will be whittled down to 32 players for the two-match tour of Spain following this Super Series match with 26 players ultimately travelling to Valladolid for two matches with Las Leonas, the second on 3 June an official test match.
Embracing the challenge
Hong Kong will then face Japan home and away in July in the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship before heading to Ireland to tackle four-time Women’s Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand, 2014 runners-up Canada and Wales in Pool A.
“Our approach is to take it one step at a time,” explained Hull. “The Super Series is essential for us to prepare for Spain. Spain is essential for us to prepare for Japan and the Japan series is all about getting ready for our opening World Cup match against Canada.
“We are basing our selection on facts and performance. All of the players are very clear on that message. They understand that no matter who you are, we won’t be respecting reputations when it comes to selection for the Rugby World Cup.
“Full credit to the players, they have not only understood that message, they have embraced it, which is hugely positive and reinforces the fact that we are building an increasingly competitive atmosphere within the squad.
“[This weekend] we want to look at a few different players to possibly include for Spain, because we need to continue developing our strength in depth. We know we will need a larger squad to manage the playing demands of the next few months.
“They have been training intensely since the end of the year and managing the physical and time demands while balancing professional careers and their studies.
“Tomorrow is about applying what we have been doing in training and doing that under pressure and at a faster pace. There is a good feeling in the camp; some good positive tension ahead of the game. No one is resting on their laurels. The motivation of these women and how hard they are working has been tremendous.
“It’s been a big shift, not just in the team’s belief that they can play at a high level but in their desire to play at the top level and their understanding of exactly what that demands.”