After seven years of hard training, Cindy Yuen Lok-yee will make her debut in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Women's Sevens today.
Yuen, 19, plays for Kowloon Rugby Football Club and is the youngest player to be included in Hong Kong's 12-member squad for this weekend's tournament.
As a versatile player who can play as a scrum-half, fly-half, centre or winger, Yuen has put in a lot of effort to get this opportunity.
She trains five days a week - two days of field training at King's Park Sports Ground and three days of gym and skill sessions at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) in Sha Tin. And she has scratches on her arms and a painful injury to show for all her hard work.
"Last year an opponent's knee hit my right eye in a local league match," says Yuen. "It became blood red and my face [swelled up]. It looked horrible and it scared my mum, too."
Yuen has had to take such injuries in her stride to rise to the top of a sport that is growing in popularity.
Since last April, rugby sevens has been included among the Tier A sports in HKSI's Elite Training Programme. This means both the men's and women's squads receive extra funding and support, enabling players to train on a full-time basis. Notably, rugby is the only team sport to be included in the top tier.
"Becoming a full-time professional player is definitely my goal," says the Year Two student in Chinese and bilingual studies at Polytechnic University.
"But I'm still in my second year of studies and to realise my dream, I have to work really hard with my teammates. We need good results in tournaments to pass the funding review in two years' time. It would be pointless talking about my career after my graduation if we are dropped [as a Tier A sport]."
Yuen first joined the national under-18 squad in 2011, when she was a Form Five student at Holy Family Canossian College. She was promoted to the senior squad during preparations for last year's Sevens. In 2013, Yuen represented Hong Kong at the Thailand Sevens and Shanghai Sevens, before signing on as a part-time player at the HKSI last October.
Yuen had previously taken part in figure skating and volleyball, but she fell in love with rugby when she was in Form One.
"My school had a really strong rugby team. I was curious about the sport as I had never come across it before, so I signed up. Although I started figure skating in [Primary Two], I loved team sports. I decided to drop skating and focus on rugby in Form Two."
To stay involved, Yuen is now coaching her school's team twice a week. It keeps her busy alongside her own training and studying at PolyU. She is delighted to have an opportunity to pursue her passion.
"Rugby gives me something that I can't get from volleyball. I like its flexibility and variation. I'm a setter on the volleyball court and I think my role is somehow fixed," she says. "But on the rugby field, I depend on my teammates more and I have a stronger sense of belonging."
You can see Yuen in action at the Hong Kong Women's Sevens at Hong Kong Football Club today