Hong Kong China women coach Paul John is hopeful his players can put the lessons they learned on their HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut into practice when they begin the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series on Thursday.
John oversees both the men’s and women’s Hong Kong China programmes and has stepped into lead the latter after Iain Monaghan left to take up a role with Canada.
The transition was an easy one for the Welshman, who coached his country to the men’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 title, and he was pleased with how the team got on as an invitational side at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens three weeks ago.
Hong Kong China lost each of their five matches on home soil, but John saw enough to take confidence into the two-event Challenger Series, which will get underway on Thursday in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
“It was good to have a couple of tournaments in preparation and playing on the World Series, for both the men and the women, was really good,” John told World Rugby.
“The girls [were] playing at that level for the first time as well. They really came into their own and played well on that second day and we were pleased with the way they actually played on the first day as well.
“It was good for them to realise what that level's like. So, hopefully we can show that we learned a lot from it and are not too in awe of the challenge we've got here.”
He added: “Hopefully, the girls learned a lot, that there's nothing special required, just to do the simple things really well and if you do that then you're going to put yourself in a position to be competitive in most games.”
The task facing Hong Kong China and the 11 other women’s teams who have arrived in South Africa for the Challenger Series could not be simpler.
Finish at the top of the standings at the end of the second tournament at Markötter Stadium on 30 April and a place in the 2024 Series is theirs.
As they target that prize, Hong Kong China have been drawn in Pool D alongside Colombia, who they beat at the Olympic repechage tournament in Monaco in 2021, Paraguay and 2022 runners-up Poland.
“We played Colombia a couple of years ago in the repechage and did OK against them. Paraguay, [we don’t know] so much,” John said.
“Poland have done really well in the Challenger Series, they’ve done well in the World Series, and they’ve obviously done well in Europe as well, so they’re a really good team.”
John refused to be drawn on where leading Hong Kong China into the Series would rank in his list of career achievements but watching both of the nation’s teams secure qualification would certainly raise a smile.
“It would be amazing. It would be something that everybody in the environment strives for,” the Welshman said.
“The Hong Kong Sports Institute and Hong Kong Rugby Union support us fantastically well and every player, every member of staff wants to get into the World Series because that's the highest level you can play in sevens.
“To have a taste of that a few weeks ago was great and it just shows you what a fantastic environment it is to play in, and every player wants to play at the best level they can. So, you know, that would be an unbelievable achievement.”