The countdown clock is ticking for Hong Kong after the International Rugby Board announced the dates for the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow - June 28-30.
'We have just over a year to go and our first goal will be to qualify for the World Cup at the Asian qualifiers in Singapore in November,' said Dai Rees, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's national coach and head of performance.
Hong Kong hold the proud record of having played in every World Cup Sevens tournament since the inaugural event in 1993, and Asia's number two-ranked sevens team are determined to be around when rugby's first major international event in Russia is staged. Rees has already mapped out the road to Moscow, beginning with the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in September.
'It will be a crucial series this year. There will be three ranking tournaments this time, one more than last year, and our aim is to finish in the top two,' Rees said. 'It is very important we do this as then we will be seeded not to meet our nemesis, Japan, until the finals in the Asian qualifiers.'
Asia will have three direct entries for the 24-team World Cup. Both Cup finalists in Singapore plus the winners of the third-place play-off will book tickets to Moscow. It is expected that 16 teams will be in the fray at the Asian qualifiers - to be held in the first weekend of November. It is made up of four pools of four with the top two from each pool qualifying for the knockout stages.
Qualifying will be no cakewalk. Apart from Japan, a number of other teams will be pushing for a place, including a resurgent South Korea, China - who have placed a great deal of focus on sevens since its re-inclusion as an Olympic sport in 2016 - and even Sri Lanka, who came within a whisker of defeating Hong Kong at the Asian Games. New arrivals the Philippines will be another threat.
The three Asian ranking events will determine the seedings for the World Cup qualifiers. The opening leg will be the Borneo Sevens in Kota Kinabalu, followed by the Shanghai Sevens, both in September, with Mumbai, India, expected to host the third and final leg in mid-October.
Rees will get his sevens squad together in late July or early August, but will also keep his eyes open during a series of domestic sevens tournaments in August for new talent. Former Newcastle Falcons lock forward Eni Gesinde, who now plays for Causeway Bay and will become eligible to represent Hong Kong soon, is one who will be closely watched.
'A number of our regular sevens players are in the 15s squad so they will have some down-time after the Asian Five Nations ends this month,' Rees said. 'We will get together in July for some pre-season work before we get into full flow .'
Also in the fray could be players returning from university like Ed Ralston, Max Woodward, Gavin Hadley and Dominic Jacobson, who have all either won representative caps at senior or junior level.