Photo credit: Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU)
The Hong Kong Women's National team, in both Rugby Union and Sevens format, are arguably one of the best sides on the continent.
History-makers after famously sealing World Cup qualification in 2017 and their place in Hong Kong rugby folklore, other achievements include Cup wins in both the Borneo and Coral Coast Sevens and battling performances in Asia Rugby competitions.
Their success is reflected at grassroots level, with rugby now a mainstay in school curriculum and major clubs across Hong Kong placing great emphasis on their mini-rugby section.
Several of the driving forces include a mixture of decades-long investment from the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU), government initiatives and volunteer-led events, the latter of which will be the focus of this article.
This has not only meant that the Women's Sevens squad are presently one of the few professional sides in the world, but that a steady stream of girls find themselves heavily involved in both school and club level rugby.
For one, due recognition must be given to the DB Pirates and Sai Kung Stingrays for spearheading the development of girl's rugby.
Since its inaugural edition in 2006, the Sai Kung Stingrays All Girls Tournament (SKSAGT) has grown from a mere 130 participants to becoming the biggest all girls tournament in the world.
While under the domain of the Stingrays, the Tournament was in fact founded by Suki Fong (Flying Kukris) and Gemma King (then the DeA Tigers).
In spite of a paucity of available resources, the duo were fervent champions of Hong Kong girls rugby back in its infancy, at a time where its popularity and infrastructure pales in comparison to today.
Their efforts led to use of the Happy Valley grounds being granted by the Rugby Union, with current Hong Kong National player Rachel Fong remembering the muddy conditions of the Tournament with much fondness.
Now featuring girls from U6 to U19 level, the competition recently celebrated a milestone last year, when it welcomed an overseas contingent comprised of 20 teams from Australia, Guam and Japan for the first time.
2019 will see further expansion in terms of overseas participation, with organisers anticipating an astounding 1000 girls in total to fill King’s Park to its maximum capacity over 29th and 30th March.
Hosted slightly earlier in the year, the DB Pirates All Girls Beach Festival has enjoyed similar success since beginning in 2011.
While slightly smaller in scale with around 800 players in attendance this year, the Festival presents a vastly different and challenging sand surface – a contrast to the usual astro and grass grounds strewn across Hong Kong.
Featuring four inflatable rugby pitches and two netball courts, it differs from the SKSAGT by opening up a senior category on top of fixtures from U10s to U19s.
This allows for intriguing match-ups between Premiership-level teams such as Valley RFC and Gai Wu under slightly friendlier circumstances – presenting an invaluable learning opportunity for scores of mini-rugby and youth players in attendance.
Speaking of opportunities, the chance to travel abroad to compete in international competitions creates a sense of unity where teammates, rivals and players from other countries alike gather in the name of a common love for the game.
Back in 2017, the task of organising this was undertaken by a team involving the Flying Kukris and hosts Tanglin Rugby Club from Singapore, who both sought to establish an annual tour catering exclusively to mini and youth girl’s rugby teams for the first time.
The tour has enjoyed fervent reception and positive reviews from across the board, not least from the likes of the Hong Kong Football Club, Valley Fort, DB Pirates and Flying Kukris who have formed the bulk of Hong Kong representation for the past two years.
HKRU’s Director of Women’s Rugby Kim Boreham was present at both the Singapore Tour and the DB Pirates Beach Festival and recognised the importance of these initiatives as both yardsticks and catalysts.
“These tournaments reflect the growing number of girls playing rugby within Hong Kong and Asia, as well as the desire to provide girls teams with more opportunities to play against different teams from around the region,” said Boreham.
Photo credit: HKRU
“They provide an invaluable opportunity for girls to play against a wider variety of teams from varied backgrounds and for the overseas tours, to experience being ‘on tour’ with your team.”
She was also quick to single out the effort on the part of the volunteers and organisers behind these respective events.
“The size and success of the tournaments is also a testament to the widespread support for girl’s rugby and the hard work and efforts of the clubs, parents and the rugby community to help grow the girls’ game.”
Correction: A reader has kindly supplied us with more accurate information regarding the origins of the inaugural All Girls Tournament and the organisational role played by Suki Fong (Flying Kukris) and Gemma King (then-DeA Tigers). This has been added to the article on 31st March 2019.