As the Womens Rugby World Cup 2017 exploded into life this week, I had the great pleasure to ask a few questions to Kim Boreham, who is Director of Women’s Rugby for Hong Kong Rugby Union. This is Hong Kong’s first appearance at the tournament – they beat Fiji to guarantee qualification – and they will face Wales in the final round of Pool A games on Thursday. We discussed the view from the Hong Kong camp leading into the tournament, as well as the world-wide growth of the women’s game, and the success and increasing popularity of the sport in Asia.
Congratulations to Hong Kong women on qualifying for their first World Cup. What a brilliant achievement, and an important milestone. What is the feeling amongst the squad ahead of their first appearance at the tournament?
Thank you. Qualifying for the tournament was a huge milestone for Hong Kong Women and Hong Kong Rugby as this is the first national team to qualify for a Rugby World Cup in XVs. The squad is determined to make the most of this incredible opportunity to play on the world stage. The squad have enjoyed their first few days in Ireland, are excited to finally make their first appearance and focussed on their first game against Canada.
How have preparations gone for the World Cup?
It has been a slow and steady build up over the last 8 months. In the last 2 months, Hong Kong played a training and test match against Spain and played Japan twice in the Asian Rugby Championship, which was an important part of our preparations. While the score lines were not in our favour the matches were invaluable for helping our coaching team try out different combinations and narrow down the final squad.
Are there any new, or surprise, inclusions in the Hong Kong squad? Who are the ones to watch in the team, likely to set the tournament alight?
A late inclusion to the team was our youngest player, Kelsey Bouttle, 18, who was only called into the training squad around 3 months ago. Players to watch include the two wings Poon Pak Yan and Chong Ka Yan and centre, Natasha Olson Thorne.
What do you make of Hong Kong’s group opponents? Who are you most looking forward to facing?
It is a daunting pool but if you are coming to the World Cup you want the chance to play some of the best teams in the world. This will be the first time that Hong Kong plays Canada, NZ and Wales so we are looking forward to each of these games for different reasons.
Aside from obviously lifting the trophy, what will HKRU hope to achieve from the women’s team’s first world cup appearance?
We hope to raise the profile of women’s rugby within Hong Kong and Asia and showcase the kind of opportunities that rugby can bring you. Not just in terms of playing on the world stage against the best teams in the world. We want to highlight the hard work, strength and determination of our players as well as the team spirit, inclusion, camaraderie and fun that rugby has to offer.
In the last four years, I feel the women’s game has quite rightly gone from strength to strength and is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. I think the women’s sevens tournament at the Rio Olympics last year, in particular, put the spotlight on women’s rugby and captured lots of people’s imaginations. What do you think are some of the next steps in growing the women’s game even further?
Agreed. I think this years Women’s Rugby World Cup will also help showcase and highlight the strength of the women’s XVs at the top level. The Olympics have certainly helped galvanise interest in rugby for young girls around the world. Some of the next steps in growing the women’s game further would be to better promote and develop the girls and women’s game, at grassroots level particularly in non traditional rugby countries to bring greater awareness of the sport and its benefits to girls. There is some great work being done already within Asia on this but as always there is more work to be done. Try to increase number and support for international competitions and test matches including across regions – the statistics about the number of tests played by some of the women’s teams in the WRWC make for some interesting reading. It is important that development of the VIIs and XVs game for women’s rugby proceed concurrently and not be seen as a choice of one or the other – allocation of resources may vary at times but growth and development of both games should be supported.
How exciting is it to be involved with rugby in Asia at the moment? I’m so pleased to see the game blossoming in the region at present. Japan’s victory over South Africa at RWC 2015 was a huge moment. Japan came close to beating Wales in Cardiff in November, too, and of course they will be hosting the next world cup.
Very exciting. Japan is a great example of the growth and development of rugby in Asia both in the men’s and women’s game over the last 20 years. The fact they are hosting the World Cup will be a huge boost for the game in Asia.
Finally, I’d like to wish you and everyone involved with Hong Kong women’s team all the very best for the world cup!
Thank you so much for answering a few questions for my blog, Kim! I also wasn’t previously aware of the Welsh contingent involved with Hong Kong Rugby Union, with Dai Rees, Leigh Jones and Paul John all currently involved with managing and coaching the National teams.
Here’s wishing Hong Kong all the best in their next match, against New Zealand this afternoon, and indeed for the rest of the tournament!
You can watch live coverage of Wales v Hong Kong on Thursday 17th August at 5:15pm on ITV4.