Head coach Jo Hull is upbeat about the future of the game in Hong Kong after seeing her side confirm their place at Women's Rugby World Cup 2017.
With wins over Fiji in the opening two rounds of the Asia/Oceania WRWC 2017 qualification tournament, Hong Kong and Japan qualified for the 12-team showpiece event in Ireland next year.
While Japan have competed on the highest stage twice before, at the first two tournaments in 1991 and 1994, for Hong Kong it will be the first time they have played at such a level – in either men’s or women’s rugby.
“It’s huge, it’s hard to put it into words,” said Hull. “For Hong Kong women’s rugby, hopefully it is going to be a huge turnaround and encourage youngsters and women to get involved and play in that Hong Kong jersey and take a lot of pride in that.
“Bringing Hong Kong out of Asia to compete against world-class teams and be in the top 12 on that international stage will be fantastic and I think it will be a huge catalyst for the game in Hong Kong.
“We wanted to create a legacy and create history, but what would be most pleasing is to see our men do the same thing in a couple of years’ time.
“Hong Kong rugby is about the men and the women, we had this opportunity first and have grabbed it with both hands, but I think it sets a real precedent about the potential we have in our game in Hong Kong.”
"Bringing Hong Kong out of Asia to compete against world class teams and be in the top 12 on that international stage will be fantastic and I think it will be a huge catalyst for the game in Hong Kong"
AIMING TO BE NO.1
Hong Kong will face Asian champions Japan on Saturday at the Hong Kong Football Club to determine the winner of the qualifier, having lost both games against Japan in the Asia Rugby Women's Championship earlier this year.
“We are happy with qualifying for the World Cup, but we are focused on our next task. Japan play the Japan style and are fast and play at a high tempo,” said Hong Kong captain Chow Mei-nam.
“We will look to do our own jobs and play our own style to beat them. We are confident we can do that and be the first team in Asia.”
Saturday's winner will join hosts Ireland as well as France and Australia in Pool C of the tournament which takes place between 9-26 August next year, with those three teams “huge in terms of their skill level” according to Hull.
The runner-up, meanwhile, will join WRWC 2014 runners-up Canada, New Zealand and Wales in Pool A, which Hull believes “is undoubtedly the most physical pool,” with defending champions England, the USA, Italy and Spain drawn in Pool B.
“It will be pretty amazing for these girls. Whoever we play against, it is just about being the best we can be and being in that environment and enjoying it, but most importantly representing Hong Kong and taking pride in that,” added Hull.
“A lot of the girls have played those teams at sevens, but to come together and play them at 15s will be an amazing experience. We want to do well. We don’t just want to turn up; having earned our place, we want to justify being there.”
HAT-TRICK FOR HULL
Next year will represent a third Women’s Rugby World Cup appearance for Hull, who was assistant coach for Scotland in 2006 before returning four years later as performance manager.
“Going to a World Cup is an experience you will never get in any other walk of your life. It is three weeks of intense pressure, but it is an amazing three weeks, surrounded by amazing athletes and coaches and a really high performance culture. It is about celebrating how far women’s rugby has come,” she said.
“Both my experiences showed how competitive and how far the women’s game has come. To be there you have to be prepared. You have to be ready for the pressure, and you have to be able to perform at the right time.
“We are not getting ahead of ourselves and saying we can go and win the World Cup, but if we are there, we want to give a good account of ourselves for Hong Kong so we get young kids, girls and women saying they want to be there in 2021.”