The final regional qualification tournament for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games takes place in Incheon, Korea, this weekend with the winner joining Japan as Asia's second representative in the men's rugby sevens competition.
Hong Kong, the Asian Games gold medallists, are the top seeds for the tournament, which features eight other sides from across Asia bar Japan who are qualified as host nation.
China, Chinese Taipei, hosts Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Afghanistan will also be hoping to upset Hong Kong and secure their passage to Tokyo 2020.
For Hong Kong, victory would mean qualifying for the Olympic Games for the first time in any team sport since the men's hockey team took part in 1964.
More Olympic Games qualifier action this weekend in Asia with Korea hosting 9 of the top teams— Asia Rugby (@asiarugby) November 22, 2019
Asian Games gold medalists @HongKongRugby go in as one of the favourites to join Japan @Tokyo2020 @WorldRugby7s pic.twitter.com/xAr81zOCFM
Hong Kong are joined in Pool A by Chinese Taipei and Malaysia, while Pool B features China, the Philippines and Singapore with Pool C comprising Sri Lanka, hosts Korea and Afghanistan.
Sri Lanka captain Danush Dayan would love his side to go all the way. “Our first target is the first game against Afghanistan, and then we are going at it match by match, with the target of making the final,” he said.
2015 loss not forgotten
Hong Kong finished second behind Japan in the Asia Rugby Series and will carry the favourites tag, after not having lost a game to any of this weekend’s participating teams this season.
Hong Kong coach Paul John, though, insists they will be taking none of their opponents lightly.
“We have done our homework, selection has been very competitive and we are ready. We know that we can’t afford to be complacent now, we need to start positively to build momentum throughout the tournament,” he said.
Hong Kong fell at the final hurdle in the Asian regional qualifier for Rio 2016, losing 24-19 to a Japan side that went on to finish fourth at the Olympic Games, but captain Max Woodward believes Hong Kong are better placed to succeed now.
“We have played in this type of tournament before, with a team that, I think, was one of the best we have ever had, but we lost. Those of us who were there haven’t forgotten that. Of course, the Japan team we lost to reached the bronze medal match in Rio, which puts it into perspective, but we remember what it is like to get so close to that ring,” he said.
“Our depth now is far, far better and that is the biggest difference since 2015. Now every tournament there are dozens of guys who are eligible and playing to a very high standard. That makes our training so much more competitive and that is a huge bonus for our environment.”
Ten teams have already confirmed their presence in Tokyo in hosts Japan, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifiers Fiji, USA, New Zealand and South Africa, along with regional qualifiers Argentina, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and Kenya. The winner in Incheon will join them with the two next best teams completing the line-up for the global repechage in June next year.
The Asia qualifier will be streamed live on the Asia Rugby Facebook page.