It has been a huge learning curve for China’s women’s sevens squad as they continue to make progress on their return to the world stage.
China are lying in 10th position in the 2019 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series standings as they turn up this weekend at the Sydney Sevens. But every bit of experience gained in coming up against the top teams in the world over the course of the six-legged series will only benefit China as they look ahead to the 2020 Olympic qualification, the main target.
The Olympics is the Holy Grail for China. And booking a ticket to Tokyo is of prime importance for China coach Chad Shepherd. With this goal in mind he described regaining core team status for the 2019 World Sevens Series as “massive”.
“I think core team status is huge. Personally, I think it is massive for us because it means in those high-pressure situations in quality matches and consistently playing against the world’s best, and testing ourselves in those situations as well,” said Shepherd.
China can gain an automatic entry into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they win the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Guangzhou on November 9.
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) April 6, 2018
China have rung in the changes for Sydney and are unrecognisable from the side that played in the last round of the series in Dubai at the end of November. Only two players remain from that squad, Chen Ming who assumes the captaincy, and Wang Yeuyeu.
Six of the new players are aged 20 or under as China continues to expose promising young players to world-class opposition.
“The team that we have currently got has an average age of about 21, so a lot of those players have not played outside Asia or against these types of teams with regards to physicality, intensity and speed of the game,” Shepherd said.
“It is huge for us. Obviously, the big thing is to stay up here next year which is the difficult part, but a piece of the puzzle is to try and play this year, learn from our experiences and then stay up there next year with the goal of qualifying for the Olympics,” he added.
Rugby still remains a relatively unknown sport in China although it has gained momentum over the past few years, driven by the sevens becoming an Olympic sport leading to investment from the government and private investors.
Local governments have set up at least 10 provincial teams – and many more city teams – since 2009, the year the International Olympic Committee voted for rugby sevens to become an Olympic sport.