NZ Legend Anna Richards Prepares for Sevens Qualifiers in Hong Kong

Travel News Asia Videos Podcasts Latest Travel News Asia Wednesday, 20 August 2014

With the pools and schedule for the 12-team IRB Womens Sevens World Series qualifier, which will take place in Hong Kong next month, now confirmed, a number of interesting match-ups are on the cards.

One of the toughest groups will be Pool C where the ambitious home team will face 2016 Olympic Games hosts Brazil and the European duo of the Netherlands and Portugal. And at the centre of Hong Kongs challenge will be coach Anna Richards, someone who is no stranger to the pressures of top-level rugby.

Richards won the last of her four Rugby World Cups for New Zealand as a 45-year-old in 2010. She is the most-capped Black Fern and an acknowledged superstar of the women's game.

And while New Zealands 16-year reign as Womens Rugby World Cup champions came to an end when England beat Canada 21-9 in Paris on Sunday, life goes on. No one knows this better than the Black Ferns legend, who set herself some very different goals to achieve when she took over as Hong Kongs womens coach in February.

This will be a massive challenge. Its the second tier of international teams. The likes of Netherlands, Brazil, France, Japan and China have all been playing on the circuit for the past year. They all played well, too, so it wont be easy for us, Anna said.

The one advantage Hong Kong have is that they will host the competition at Shek Kip Mei Stadium. But the advantage of home support wont lessen the enormity of the task at hand.

The reality is if we hadnt hosted it we wouldnt have been able to take part in the tournament, so its a massive opportunity for us to get the chance to play against some great teams, Anna added. If we can post some good results we may be invited to play in an IRB tournament, so there are plenty of incentives for us to perform well. Itll be a very tough tournament for us, but I still think were going to be competitive.

With four places up for grabs in next seasons Womens Sevens World Series, the 12-team qualifying tournament looks set to be hard fought. In an open competition, France, Fiji, Brazil, and the Netherlands will go into the competition as slight favourites to qualify. However, Japan and China will also fancy their chances as the womens Sevens game is thriving in both Asian countries.

Now that Sevens is an Olympic sport everybody is putting a lot more effort and money into it. Japan is really improving and China is also putting a lot of resources into the womens game here now. Theyll both be very strong in the tournament, Anna said. Recently we have seen the Hong Kong womens Fifteens team perform exceptionally well during the Asian Four Nations, again with a large compliment of sevens players on their roster. The funding and backing that sevens now has as an Olympic sport is definitely allowing more players to be up-skilled, which can only be good for our sport.

France, Fiji and Brazil will head the tournaments three pools. China will play in Pool A against France, South Africa and Mexico. Japan face Fiji Argentina and Kenya in Pool B, while Hong Kong will play in Pool C against Brazil, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The format of the tournament is based on three pools of four teams with the top two from each pool, along with two best third-placed teams, progressing to the quarter-final stage. The four winners of those quarters will progress to the semi-finals but, more importantly, will secure qualification for what will be the third season of the series.

The qualifiers will join core teams New Zealand, Australia, Russia, England, Spain, USA and Canada in the Series, with one more team invited to participate at each of the six rounds.

The match officials for the qualifying tournament are: Jessica Beard (New Zealand), Leah Berard (USA), Sara Cox (England), Alhambra Nievas (Spain), Amy Perrett (Australia) and Hong Kongs own Gabriel Lee Wing-yi.

IRB, Women, Rugby, Sevens, Hong Kong

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