Hong Kong: The New Kids on the World Cup Block
If you, like many of us, were glued to your TV screens watching the exciting action at the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Dublin, you will have noticed a new team on the block. This year saw the arrival of a Hong Kong team, a sight that neither Women’s nor Men’s rugby fans will be familiar with as they have never qualified for either of the Rugby World Cups before. (#girlpower) The team qualified via the Asia/ Oceania tournament in December, and soon found themselves facing up to some of the best women’s rugby teams on the planet.
Hong Kong is a small place and is tricky to find on a map if you don’t know where to look. (I’ve included a handy map for your viewing pleasure.) It is a tiny territory on the South coast of China, but is incredibly populous – home to 7.2 million people, making it the fourth most densely populated country in the world. Sevens rugby has always been huge in Hong Kong – they have hosted the HSBC Sevens circuit for decades, but the 15 player version of the sport is now seeing an enormous growth in popularity too.
It's right there ... the white dot...told you it was small!
Following their qualification, which saw them beat off Japan and Fiji, Hong Kong found themselves in a tough pool including the eventual champions, the Black Ferns of New Zealand and world number three Canada. This was an intimidating prospect for newcomers Hong Kong, who before the World Cup had only played 10 other Asian/ Oceanic teams since their creation in 1998. Nevertheless, Hong Kong supporters looked forward to the exciting prospect of seeing their national team play on an international stage for the very first time.
Hong Kong got put in a very experienced pool.
With this in mind, having been born and raised in Hong Kong I spontaneously booked a trip to Dublin to go and support my team. Hong Kong was where I discovered my love for rugby so it was such a thrill to be able to watch two of their pool matches, surrounded by friends and Hong Kong fans.
Ooooooooooooh Hong Kong friends!
Hong Kong kicked off their campaign against Canada, which ended in a 98-0 loss for the debut side. Despite this, many fans were celebrating the fact that the score was “less than a hundred” and that the “girls played extremely well given the third ranked opposition”. The atmosphere was buzzing, as many fans had come from Hong Kong and beyond. We were so proud to see our team run out and give their all. This was our first opportunity to show off the Hong Kong kit and wave the Bauhinia flag with pride in front of the world, so we made the most of it.
The next game saw Hong Kong against the incredibly strong and ultimate tournament champions, the Black Ferns of New Zealand. Many Hong Kong fans saw a huge defensive improvement in the side, with the team putting in increasingly harder tackles. We also saw several breaks in attack. However, the game finished 121-0 for New Zealand - with Olympian Portia Woodman running in eight tries against the side. There is some controversy surrounding whether Hong Kong should have even been facing such an experienced side, given it was their first real international experience. Regardless, Hong Kong put up a fierce fight, and surely relished the chance to play against some of the best athletes in the world.
Unfortunately, I could not stay in Dublin for Hong Kong’s last pool match against Wales. Instead, I cosied up and watched the match from the comfort of my bed in York. Hong Kong knew they had a point to prove going into the match, so they came out fighting. They scored twice against the Welsh side and showed some real attacking spirit.
Despite the losses, Hong Kong played valiantly and their World Cup campaign has certainly shown that they are a young team with potential. Their first showing on an international stage has been a tough start, but I have no doubt that we will be seeing more of the Hong Kong women’s side in the future.
What’s more, their involvement in the World Cup 2017 has will inspire many young women playing in Hong Kong, and outside like myself, to continue the journey that they have started.
(I love Hong Kong!)