Photo credit: Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU)
To represent Hong Kong at any level is a blessing. To do so in front of a home crowd, 40,000 spectators and millions watching from across the world is an emotional roller-coaster.
Perhaps the same could be said about the selection process that precedes every Hong Kong Sevens. Impressive performances at club-level are but a prerequisite, and selection for tournaments such as the Fiji Coral Coast Sevens and Borneo Sevens merely auditions for the one competition that means the most.
As we reach a month before the Sevens party returns to its spiritual home in Asia (sorry, Singapore), we look at five women's rugby players making their case for a coveted place in the Hong Kong squad.
A dimunitive scrum-half on the Kowloon RFC books, Mak Ho-yee was part of the provisional squad in last year’s Hong Kong Sevens but missed out on the final cut.
Her qualities have not gone unnoticed, having been included in the Hong Kong National 15s at the 2017 World Cup, where a picture of the 4’11 Mak posing with 6’3 Marie Louise Reilly of Ireland went viral.
The 23-year-old played a key role in her club’s 4th-placed finish in the first half of the Premiership, particularly in notable wins over SCAA Causeway Bay Phoenix and Hong Kong Football Club Ice – performances she will be hoping allows her to figure strongly in Sevens coach Iain Donaghan’s considerations.
Perhaps the most recognisable name on this list and for good reason – Jessica Ho has overcome much adversity to carve out her place in the Hong Kong National 15s selection and was capped in the 2017 World Cup in Ireland.
In 2016, she sustained multiple injuries while on holiday in Colombia, including but not limited to a broken collarbone and hand - shrouding a promising career in doubt.
Fortunately, the USRC Tigers scrumhalf has clawed her way back to form, with both her leadership and playmaking qualities shining through as her side overcame Valley to emerge Grand Championship winners this season.
Now reaching the peak of her powers and a full-time professional athlete, the 26-year-old has been part of the National Sevens' Coral Coast Sevens and Borneo Sevens campaigns and is odds-on to make the Hong Kong Sevens shortlist.
Yet another USRC Tiger in contention to make the Hong Kong Sevens, Lucas is among a select few being eased into the National 15s side, with a view to becoming part of Hong Kong’s 2021 World Cup squad.
In addition, the 20-year-old played for the senior Sevens team in the Coral Coast Sevens shortly after graduating from the National Age Grade programme, with a series of strong performances at U18 level consolidating her status as highly-regarded prospect.
Previously with the Sai Kung Stingrays at youth level, the centre has adapted seamlessly to Premiership-level rugby, where her ability to absorb tackles and drive the ball into opposition territory has made her a valuable asset to the USRC Tigers as they clinched the Grand Championship crown in March.
Given the Valley Black Ladies’ dominance on the domestic rugby scene, Eden's inclusion would certainly come as no surprise.
One of the brightest sparks in the U20 side that captured the Asia Rugby Championship in 2016, her rise has been meteoric.
Earning her first National 15s cap against Wales in November last year has been but one of many highlights for the speedy winger, having put together a scoring streak at the U20 Sevens in August as Hong Kong finished runners-up and being included in the recent Coral Coast Sevens in Fiji.
Formerly of the Flying Kukris, Eden has been in fine fettle as yet another try from the youngster saw Valley recently overcome Kowloon to book a Grand Championship Final spot, with the Black Ladies also successfully wresting the KPMG Premiership title from Gai Wu.
If the Hong Kong Rugby higher-ups are willing to gamble on youth, Maelle Picut will be one of the first names that come to mind.
A rising star in Hong Kong rugby with Asia Rugby U18 Sevens Championship gold under her belt, it isn't hard to see why the powerful number 8 considers USRC Tigers talisman Natasha Olson-Thorne as one of her idols, with the two bearing similarities in their play.
Picut has been a solid and consistent presence in the Tigers Premiership set-up as they won a memorable Grand Championship Final in the 2018-19 season against Valley and will be looking to cap off a memorable season with a maiden Hong Kong Sevens appearance.