Olympic Repechage contenders Hong Kong have already conquered their ‘Everest’

Hong Kong’s women have been ‘moving mountains’ in a bid to be in the best possible shape for the World Rugby Olympic Sevens Repechage in Monaco on 18-20 June.

Training during lockdown has challenged coaches and players from all corners of the world, and it has been no different for those involved with Hong Kong rugby.

While the men’s and women’s teams have enjoyed access to the top-class facilities at the Hong Kong Institute of Sport in the build-up to the Olympic Games Sevens Repechage, nothing can replicate the tournaments that were lost to COVID-19.

However, Paul John and Iain Monaghan, the two Celts charged with getting their respective teams to Tokyo, have been thinking outside of the box in a bid to keep things interesting.

Speaking to World Rugby 50 days out from the women’s rugby sevens Olympic final, on 31 July, Scotsman Monaghan revealed that process involved sending his players on a metaphorical journey around the world.

“We shaped training around going up the seven summits of the world (Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Mount Vinson and Carstensz Pyramid). Needless to say, I wasn’t the most liked coach at that time because they were worked, physically,” he said.

“But with that it allowed us to learn about the different cultures of the teams we will play and where they come from, and the history of their sport.

“We set out tasks like passing the ball every day the equivalent distance it would take to climb one of the mountains, we camped out and learnt how to cook different national dishes, and learnt about tribes and their values and what makes them survive so long, and how we could maybe bring that into our high performance environment… things that gave a different slant to training.”

Self-reflection

Though ‘climbing a mountain’ was only an analogy, the work put in by the squad in improving themselves has been very real.

“They’ve had so much time to reflect on themselves because they haven’t been able to compete in tournaments,” said Monaghan.

“We’ve got to spend time on areas of our game and areas of ourselves as coaches and athletes that we wouldn’t ordinarily have time to do if we’d have been travelling to tournaments.

“Whilst we are competitive beasts and we want to be out on the pitch and playing in tournaments, quite quickly we have parked the disappointment of not getting there the first time around. That has motivated us to improve so that we can give it another shot in Monaco.”

Both the women’s and men’s teams were one win away from directly qualifying for the Tokyo Games, after reaching the final of the Asia Rugby qualification tournament in 2019.

The women could have no complaints as they were well beaten by China 33-0, but the men suffered an agonising sudden-death defeat to Korea.

Giant-killer

As the top two seeds and experienced HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series campaigners, France and Samoa will be favourites to claim the last place available at the Olympics in the men’s competition.

But John, a scrum-half in his playing days, has a history of making shocks happen having led 80/1 outsiders Wales to Rugby World Cup Sevens glory in 2009.

Would Olympic qualification for Hong Kong, who finished sixth in the repechage in 2016, match that achievement?

“It would rank alongside it, 100 per cent, for sure. That tournament is something that would live with us all forever,” he admitted.

Hong Kong’s women won only two of their five games in the last repechage in Dublin five years ago, crashing out of contention for a ticket to Rio in the pool stages. The men reached the Cup quarter-finals but a defeat to Samoa ended their involvement.

John’s side is in Pool A with France, Chile, Uganda and Jamaica.

“If you take the World Series teams out of this competition – Samoa, France and Ireland – we’ve played against everybody else regularly, either in the HK Sevens or the Challenger Series, and every game has been really competitive and really close. The very nature of the game means nothing is certain. Every point is going to matter,” he said.

“After the disappointment of not getting to the Olympics the first time around, we’ve now got a chance to put that right,” added John.

Neither of the teams will lack for repechage experience with stalwarts such as Natasha Olson-Thorne, Melody Li and Nam Ka Man returning for another crack at qualification in the women’s and captain Max Woodward, Jamie Hood and the McQueen brothers, Alex and Tom, in the men’s.

Can-do attitude

The women’s team are pooled with France, Madagascar and Colombia. The top two teams and the two best runners-up from the three pools make it through to the knockout stages.

Using their performances against Canada in October 2019 as a benchmark, Monaghan is confident that his team can stand toe-to-toe with the best.

“Being a realist, there is a lot of respect for Russia and France. Kazakhstan can show they can compete with any team on their day, and that’s the beauty of sevens. It’s the same with ourselves,” said Monaghan.

“We played Canada as part of our preparations for the Olympic qualifier and competed with them quite comfortably.

“They are a very difficult team to play against in terms of physicality, skill and speed and are Olympic bronze medallists. But we got over the jetlag and very much held our own.

“If we can perform, we can be in with a shout in any of the games.”

Read more: Olympic qualification would bring Samoa together in celebration, says Auimatagi Sapani >>

Last updated: Jun 9, 2021, 10:47:04 AM
HK women's sevens head coach Iain Monaghan
wr-women-news-sevens sevens-news-women wr-news-olympics-repechage-teams sevens wr-news-sevens Olympic Qualifying wr-news-olympics-w Olympics wr-news wr-women-news wr-news-olympics-m sevens-news-men
Olympic Repechage contenders Hong Kong have already conquered their ‘Everest’
Hong Kong’s women have been ‘moving mountains’ in a bid to be in the best possible shape for the World Rugby Olympic Sevens Repechage in Monaco on 18-20 June.
Rugby Africa Women's Cup 2019: South Africa v Kenya - CREDIT: Gallo Images
wr-women-news-regions wr-news Women's Development Women's wr-women-news wr-women-news-power Womens
South Africa “no longer just a follower” when it comes to gender diversity in rugby
We spoke to World Rugby Council member Vanessa Doble about the constitutional amendments SA Rugby has made to increase female representation in its governance structures.
Maria Thomas
wr-women-news-regions wr-news Women's Development Women's wr-women-news Feature wr-women-news-power Womens
Maria Thomas putting scholarship lessons into practice as Trinidad and Tobago RFU’s first female president
We caught up with the World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient following her historic election win.
WIR_Landscape_Scrum
wr-news wr-women-news mz-advisory RWC2021 Rugby World Cup wr-women-news-2021
World Rugby welcomes Mastercard as founding global partner of Women in Rugby and unveils new marketing campaign
World Rugby has announced details of a transformative five-year partnership with Mastercard and has also launched its new Team Powered marketing campaign.
Photo of players running out at a Japan rugby test event
wr-women-news-sevens wr-news wr-women-news wr-news-asia wr-news-sevens
Japan sevens chief hopes Tokyo Olympics continues cycle of success
With 50 days to go until the men’s final of the Olympic rugby sevens competition, Japan head coach Kensuke Iwabuchi looks forward to competing on home soil in Tokyo.
Amanda Cox
wr-women-news-regions wr-women-news-coach wr-news Women's Development Women's wr-women-news Feature Womens
Amanda Cox on the fight for more female representation in refereeing
We caught up with the referee coach to discuss her life in rugby and find out what needs to be done to create more opportunities for women to become match officials.
Photo of the France and Tunisia sides during a training camp at Marcoussis
Olympics wr-news Women's wr-women-news wr-news-olympics-repechage-teams sevens Team News Womens
The "Rebellious" preparing to fly the Tunisian flag in Monaco
As we reach 50 days to the rugby sevens kick-off at the Tokyo Olympics, the Tunisian women's rugby sevens team prepares to play their second World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco, with ambitions beyond Tokyo 2020.
Argentine 7s captain Gimena Mattus attacks during the 2019 Pan American Games.
wr-women-news-sevens wr-news wr-women-news Feature wr-news-sevens Preview Olympic Qualifying
Argentina looking to end a difficult two years with history at Monaco sevens showdown
Argentina won't be flying into Monaco's Olympic Repechage as favourites, but that isn't stopping their dreams of Tokyo, as coach Tomás Bongiorno and captain Gime Mattus tell World Rugby.
Germany win Lodz Sevens 2019
wr-news-sevens wr-women-news-sevens wr-news wr-women-news
Germany look to new generation to defend Rugby Europe men’s sevens crown
Germany men’s sevens head coach Damian McGrath speaks to World Rugby ahead of the start of the Rugby Europe Championship Sevens Series.
HSBC New Zealand Sevens 2020 - Women's
sevens-news wr-women-news-sevens Women's sevens-news-women sevens wr-news-sevens sevens-news-feature sevens-news-olympic wr-news-olympics-w Olympics wr-news wr-women-news Tournament News Womens
Emilee Cherry: Five memorable moments from the career of a rugby sevens pioneer
Following the announcement that Cherry will hang up her boots prior to the Tokyo Olympics, we recap some of her best moments in the green and gold of Australia.