Asian race to England 2025 set to begin in Hong Kong

Hosts Hong Kong China will kick off the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2024 against Japan on Wednesday, with qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 and WXV 2024 on the line.

Japan head coach Lesley McKenzie believes her team have “unfinished business” as they target qualification for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 and WXV 2 2024.

The Sakura 15s have arrived in Hong Kong, where they will get their Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2024 campaign underway against their hosts on Wednesday (kick off 18:30 local time, GMT+8).

For the second successive year, the tournament will feature Japan, Hong Kong China and Kazakhstan but it has reverted to a round-robin format for 2024.

Following Wednesday’s opening match, McKenzie’s side are scheduled to face Kazakhstan next Monday before Hong Kong China bring the curtain down against the Kazakhs on Saturday, 1 June.


Whoever finishes the tournament top of the standings will seal their place in both WXV 2 and Women’s RWC 2025 in England.

The runners-up, meanwhile, will head to Dubai for WXV 3 with their hopes of qualifying for England 2025 still intact. The top six non-qualified nations across the three tiers of WXV 2024 will secure their place at the expanded showpiece tournament next year.

Japan won a one-off final against Kazakhstan in Almaty to lift their fifth Asian title 12 months ago and they have not tasted defeat to either of this month’s opponents since 2014 – albeit they haven’t played Hong Kong China in almost seven years.

Winning the 2023 Women’s Championship qualified Japan for WXV 2 2023 in South Africa, where they beat Samoa, but lost to Italy and Scotland to finish fourth.

The Sakura 15s had moments of dominance against Italy in their opening match last October and took the lead against Scotland only to suffer defeat.

McKenzie, who named four uncapped players in her squad for the tournament, wants her team to prove they are improving on the road to Women’s RWC 2025, starting with Wednesday’s match against Hong Kong China at Kings Park Stadium.

“At this year’s championship we want to show that we’re a team that’s got plans for the World Cup next year,” McKenzie said. “This is our qualification [route] for England 2025 and this year’s WXV 2.

“We’ve got some unfinished business in terms of how we started and finished games last year and the main thing for us in this championship is to take every moment seriously and to put our stamp on each involvement. I’m really excited and looking forward to it.”

Inspiring future generations

Hong Kong China missed out on a place in the inaugural edition of WXV due to their narrow 27-23 defeat to Kazakhstan in the 2023 Women’s Championship semi-finals.

They have spent time in Canberra, Australia in preparation for their home tournament, enjoying a training camp at the Brumbies’ training base earlier this year.

And the importance of the Women’s Championship to their England 2025 dream is highlighted by the inclusion of several sevens players in their squad.

Hong Kong China have not met Japan since losing the Women’s RWC 2017 11th-place play-off to the Sakura 15s in Belfast. The hosts’ only win in the fixture, meanwhile, came on home soil three years prior to that.

“World Cup qualification is definitely our goal. Having the sevens girls involved in the campaign with us, especially some experienced World Cup players like Natasha Olson-Thorne and Ka Yan Chong, gives the team lots of confidence and energy,” Wai Yan Pun said.

“WXV provides lots of exposure and opportunities for women’s rugby as we can play with [teams from] different regions that we rarely face.

“It gives us a solid platform to improve ourselves to become more competitive on the world stage. I hope the exposure would inspire more young girls to get involved in rugby, and even represent Hong Kong China.”

Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 is coming to England. Register now to be the first to hear about tickets.

Last updated: May 22, 2024, 1:03:20 PM
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