Every season, a new legend is forged on the city’s pitches as Hong Kong’s rugby teams compete at home and abroad. After she led Hong Kong’s to victory in Dubai in December, the name Maelle Picut has become a byword for triumph, teamwork and determination.
Maelle’s team made headlines late last year at the Dubai junior sevens tournament, where they battled opponents India, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The team went all in on their training, raising their cardio game in anticipation of Dubai’s heat.
Hong Kong wiped away UAE and Sri Lanka on day one, before pushing aside India and Uzbekistan. But even after an undefeated streak, the squad wasn’t about to underestimate the formidable Kazakhstan in the final.
“We knew Kazakhstan played an aggressive game,” Maelle, who was captain, told Young Post at the time. “But we had faster wingers, which played to our advantage. Most of our tries came through drawing in as many defenders as possible, which gave space to the speedsters who finished off the job nicely.” They rose up to claim a 12-5 victory – a win hailed as a milestone for women’s rugby in Hong Kong.
You don’t ascend to the role of team captain without tasting success a fair few times, but the feeling after Dubai was something the 17-year-old hadn’t experienced before. “Being able to bring home a gold for Hong Kong was such an honour. It felt like a dream come true. I was so proud of the effort we had put in both on and off the pitch. To see our efforts pay off was truly amazing.”
Maelle, who studies at Renaissance College, says she feels fortunate to have been introduced to rugby at a young age. “Before I tried rugby, aged 10, I’d swum, run and played football. I had schoolmates who played for our local team, the Sai Kung Stingrays. My dad and I used to watch them train on Sunday mornings. One day, I decided to get involved.”
Seven years later, Maelle not only plays for the Stingrays and the national team, but also for the USRC Tigers Women’s and National League One teams. Slightly taller than average at 1.7 metres, you’ll usually find her playing in the number eight position.
Maelle relishes the contact aspect of the sport, explaining, “I love this game because you are allowed to run at someone and get cheered on for it! There is nothing more satisfying than breaking through an opponent’s tackle.”
But her favourite thing of all is the feeling of pride and unity derived from being part of a close-knit team.
“The girls have become family ... The hard lessons of life and growing up are so much easier with teammates,” she says. That friendship was certainly a contributing factor in Dubai, where in-jokes helped the players relax, and closeness kept them together on the pitch.
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“Getting to know everything about one’s team makes it that much easier to trust one another and communicate – two very important traits of a successful rugby team. It also made it easier to give hard, critical feedback while building a comfortable atmosphere for the tournament.”
Though a role model in her own right, Maelle is quick to rattle off names of fellow local players who she looks up to: Natasha Olsen-Thorne for “the way she enters contact and breaks up tackles”; Lindsay Varty for her diplomacy, support for other players, and speed; and the “talented” Jess Ho, who handles the ball expertly and is known to dole out quality fashion advice.
Maelle’s combined success and adoration of her sport stand her in good stead for a long career in rugby – whether that’s at an international or club level. While she works towards her major goal – to play in the World Cup – she plans to train in sports science.
“I hope I can have a good, long and safe career of 20 years of competitive rugby by playing smart and staying healthy. So just to reach 20 years of play would be the ultimate.”
What song or movie title best describes you when you’re playing rugby?
The song Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen – and the movie Finding Dory!
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
I play for the Tigers, and tigers have the ideal skill set that would best suit my position: agility, speed, ferociousness, balance, and strength! A lion, panther or any of the big cats would also be a good choice. I love cats!
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
I usually eat a couple of Big Macs for their perfect balance of protein and carbs (joking!).
Which fictional character would you choose as your team mate?
I would choose Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, because she has magical powers. There are times when we just need some magic to make the game work for us!
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company are you spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I would like to be sponsored by Adidas because I am using their products right now. In terms of charity work, the UNHCR would be the dream job. I hope rugby does become so important in the future that a spokeswoman for the UN could be drawn from the pool of famous players!