Hong Kong are back in the running for a place at Rugby World Cup 2023 after it was confirmed they would now compete in the Asia Rugby 2022 Championship.

The announcement came a few weeks after the Hong Kong Rugby Union had originally announced their withdrawal from the three-team tournament and will come as a big relief to the players and coaches that the ambition of playing on the game’s biggest stage is alive again.

In the newly-structured Asia Rugby Championship, Korea take on Malaysia in Incheon on 4 June with the winner going on to meet Hong Kong in the final.

The venue and date of that game will be determined by the identity of Hong Kong’s opponents. If Korea make it through, they will face Hong Kong in Incheon on 9 July but if Malaysia win, the game will take place on the same day in Kuala Lumpur.

Whoever wins the final will progress to the next stage of Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification, which involves a one-off game against Tonga on 23 July to decide the Asia/Pacific Qualifier. The runner-up will join three other teams at the Final Qualification Tournament, which is scheduled to take place in November.

At RWC 2023, the Asia/Pacific Qualifier will line up in Pool B alongside reigning world champions South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and the Europe 2 qualifier.

The original RWC 2023 Asia qualification tournament was supposed to have been played in 2021, however, the implications of COVID-19 meant it had to be pushed back multiple times to allow ample time for teams to participate safely.

Making up for lost time

All three teams have endured years of inactivity because of the global pandemic and the lack of game time could level up the playing field.

However, Korea will be hot favourites to set up a date with Hong Kong as they have never lost to Malaysia in 11 previous outings. Neither team has played since June 2019, when they suffered heavy defeats to Hong Kong, Korea losing 64-3 and Malaysia 71-0.

Hong Kong have never competed at a Rugby World Cup before, although they did reach the Final Qualification Tournament for Japan 2019 in Marseille, where they beat Kenya but lost to Canada and Germany to ultimately miss out on the final ticket.

Hong Kong’s last test was in November 2019 when they were beaten 29-7 by Spain in Madrid.

“For us, it was and will always be paramount to protect the integrity of our 15s tournaments, the Asia Rugby Championship that acts as the pinnacle of the Regional Association calendar, especially in a year that offers a pathway to the Rugby World Cup 2023," explained Asia Rugby President Qais Al Dhalai.

“I would like to thank Asia Rugby's Competitions Committee, especially the Chairperson Mr Asanga Seneviratne and his members as after intensive meetings and persistence, we have managed to come up with a framework that will allow all three countries to take part while keeping in mind the critical factor, the athletes’ welfare.”