Asia will be the centre of the rugby sevens world for the next three weeks as the continent hosts three legs of the World Series.
Hong Kong (April 7-9) and Singapore (April 15-16) host the men, while Kitakyushu in Japan hosts the women on April 22-23 as the sevens season reaches its business end.
At present, the world’s largest continent has just one core team on either series in Japan’s men, but the world’s largest continent is well represented in the two qualifying tournaments to be held this weekend in Hong Kong – with South Korea also taking part as a guest in the main men’s competition.
Hong Kong and Sri Lanka will be looking to qualify in the men’s tournament, while Japan, China and Hong Kong are in the women’s qualifying tournament.
“It’s obviously a big tournament for us not being on the World Series,” Hong Kong’s Max Woodward told The South China Morning Post.
Hong Kong were beaten 24-14 by Japan in last year’s qualifying tournament and new coach Paul John is hopeful his side can go one better this year.
“The boys have all trained well and I’ve been really impressed by their attitude,” he said. “It’s good to see we have got the strength and depth now and these boys who have been picked are being pushed from below.”
Woodward said pool opponent Sri Lanka would be a challenge but he was hopeful his side’s experience would see them through.
“We have played a lot and they are always a hard team to face because they have a lot of X-factor on the field, but I think we are quite confident going in against them.”
In the women’s qualifying tournament, Japan, who lost their core status after finishing 10th at the Rio Olympics, face China, the Netherlands and Jamaica in the pool stage, while Hong Kong are up against Kenya, Argentina and Belgium
Both Japan and Hong Kong have qualified for the Women’s Rugby World Cup – to be held in Ireland in August – and both squads contain a number of players who double up in 15s and 7s.
“The quality of the teams is great and the opportunity to contest the qualifier at home is all that you could ask for as a coach,” said Hong Kong coach Anna Richards said. “It’s added pressure, of course, but also added excitement.”
The pressure is also on Damian Karauna and the Japan men’s team. With four tournaments to go, Japan are 15th in the standings with 12 points and will be automatically relegated unless they can overhaul Russia (18 pts) or Samoa (30 pts).
The good news for Karauna is Japan have picked up a couple of points on the Russians in the last two tournaments, but they will need to do even better in Asia before the series shifts to Europe for the final two legs.
Story by: Rich Freeman