The captains of the 12 women’s teams who will compete for core status in the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier lined up ahead of the high-stakes competition in Hong Kong today.
The women’s qualifier will kick-off the action-packed long weekend of rugby in Hong Kong on Thursday 4 April, at the So Kon Po Recreation Ground, with entry free for fans, before moving to the Hong Kong Stadium on 5 April where the qualifier champions will earn a coveted place on the 2020 Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series.
Japan, who dropped out of the series last year are top seeds in Pool A alongside Belgium, debutants Scotland and Mexico, who were the invitational side at the new women’s series opener in Glendale, Colorado, last October.
Pool B includes 2019 series invitational sides Kenya and Papua New Guinea, who featured in Dubai and Sydney respectively, alongside hosts Hong Kong and Uganda. Former series core team Brazil will take on Argentina, Kazakhstan and Poland in Pool C.
Play gets under way in Hong Kong at 10:00 local time (GMT+8) on Thursday when Belgium face Scotland in the opening match. The women’s qualifier final will take place at 16:54 local time (GMT+8) on Friday.
Speaking at the women’s qualifier captains launch, Hong Kong captain Li Nim Yan Melody Blessing said: “I think playing at home is a good pressure. We enjoy playing in front of our friends and families. We seldom get the chance to play in such a big tournament at home, but we will aim to play the way we usually do and perform to our best. The crowd always cheer for us here and that’s a great motivation so we will enjoy it.”
Japan captain Chiharu Nakamura is aiming to bounce back to the core series at the first attempt: We are very excited because Hong Kong is a special sevens event. It’s a very important opportunity for us and we need to grab it. Our group opponents are all physical teams and we expect tough games but we have had very good preparation and will do our best. It would be special for us to win and get back on to the core series as our target is to win a medal at our home Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, so we need to step up in the world series.”
Scotland captain Helen Nelson is looking forward to the challenge: “We’re really excited. We’ve had a good couple of months training in between the six nations and we’ve been building up to this tournament. It would be incredible to win and become a core team on the series. It is something that we’ve been thinking about for a few years and to have the opportunity to play at this tournament in Hong Kong, one of the biggest tournaments in the world, is a massive opportunity.“
The teams competing in Hong Kong will have added incentive to achieve a core place on the HSBC Women’s World Rugby Sevens series next year after it was recently announced the number of women’s rounds will increase from six to eight.
Dubai, Cape Town, New Zealand, Sydney, Hong Kong and Paris will host combined men’s and women’s sevens events from next season onwards as part of the next four-year world series hosting cycle. The USA Women’s Sevens will again be hosted in Glendale, Colorado, with Langford, British Columbia, also remaining as a standalone event next season.
Sevens is a major driver of rugby fan and participation growth and with its simple and exciting format and world-class athletes, it is a popular Olympic sport. Continuing the sport’s rapid growth in Asia it was announced by World Rugby Sevens Series partner HSBC today that the HSBC Try Rugby programme has introduced over 30,000 children to the sport of rugby in Hong Kong since it launched in 2017.
Designed in partnership with the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) and The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK), the community programme looked to introduce rugby sevens into the school curriculum, creating a fun and exciting teacher coaching programme to help spread the knowledge and skills nurtured in the game of rugby at primary schools.