Changes to Cup format help HK
Hong Kong will get two chances to qualify for the 1999 Rugby World Cup (RWC) to be held in Wales.
In a drastic change to the previous qualifying format - where the winners of the biennial Asian Rugby Football Tournament represented Asia at the World Cup - RWC organisers yesterday revealed that a repechage would be included in the 1999 World Cup qualifiers.
This will offer the territory a second chance at qualifying if they fail to win a quadrangular tournament to be played by October, 1998, most probably in Singapore.
The territory will play Japan, South Korea, and the winner of two previous qualifying rounds of the lesser Asian nations - Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore - in the quadrangular tournament.
The winners of the quadrangular qualify for Wales. The runner-up goes into the repechage which will also include three teams from Europe and one each from Asia, America, Africa and the Pacific.
A draw will pair six of these seven teams for home and away matches. The winners of these three matches join the seventh team, given a bye, in a quadrangular tournament to be played by May, 1999, at a venue to be decided. The first two from this repechage tournament qualify for Wales.
Hong Kong's best chance of qualifying for the 1999 World Cup will be at the first hurdle itself when they meet traditional Asian foes Japan and South Korea.
The repechage will be harder as the teams which are likely to end up in this round could include countries like Tonga and Namibia who could be favoured to win the two repechage berths not taking into account any of the second tier European nations.
Twenty countries will play in the 1999 World Cup - an increase of four from the 1995 tournament which hosts South Africa won.
Organisers said they hoped the complicated qualifying draw for the finals will ensure that all major Test-playing nations will reach Wales.
'The structure of the qualifying rounds has been designed to ensure that no team with a legitimate claim to be in the 1999 tournament in Wales would miss out due to an accidental loss of form,' RWC chairman Leo Williams said yesterday.
South Africa, 1995 runners-up New Zealand, third-placed France and hosts Wales qualify automatically.