Coach Chad Shepherd was beaming from ear to ear after China won the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong on Friday and it was easy to see why, given that after just two months in the role he had helped China secure six wins from six to claim the coveted core team place on the series next season.
China improved as the tournament went on, scoring 24 tries and conceding just eight, with a knock-out run any team would be proud of, including scoring four tries against a Belgium side that had conceded just one on day one in the semi-finals.
In the final, thanks to a hat-trick from Chen Keyi, victory never looked in doubt for Shepherd’s side as they ran out 31-14 victors over South Africa to earn a return to the series for the first time since 2014-15.
“It is pretty surreal, but a lot of the hard work was already done, this was just adding the icing on the cake really,” Shepherd, the former Germany sevens coach who lost in the men’s qualifier final last year in Hong Kong, told Asia Rugby.
“I am just really proud. We only had nine players left for the last two games, three were ruled out with injuries so they showed a massive amount of heart. The work ethic and determination really showed through, and that was pleasing more than anything.”
Buying into the plan
Next for China is the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan on 21-22 April, where they will get a reminder of what life is like on the series when they join the world's best teams as the tournament's invitational team.
After that it’s off to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 alongside Japan as Asia's representatives with a provincial series determining the squad that will travel to San Francisco for the 20-22 July showpiece event.
“We have got the world series in Japan, that is our next highlight and then from there we have a provincial series, which will determine which team represents China at RWC Sevens,” added Shepherd.
“We obviously won one to come to Hong Kong so there’s another one going into the World Cup. Then it’s the world series next year, and one eye on the Olympics in 2020.”
Having only been in the job for a short time, what has impressed Shepherd about a side that is seemingly going from strength to strength?
“The girls have progressed really well, but to be fair to the Chinese coaches that have been there before, they’ve done a great job and they have instilled a lot of fundamentals, great passing and things like that.
“The foundations were already there, they have a great work ethic and they have really brought into what I’ve tried to bring in.”