The Philippines, Asia's new success story, and Guyana will make their debuts at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in March, a development which sees rugby extending its traditional borders even further.
'The Philippines only became a full member of the International Rugby Board two years ago but have now won a place ... on merit. They are a success story and I'm delighted they will be making their debut,' Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory (pictured) said yesterday.
Guyana has been invited by the IRB, under whose patronage the HSBC Sevens World Series is being held with the March 23-25 event being the sixth stop in the nine-leg series. Guyana won the North American Caribbean Rugby Association Sevens championships in November.
The Philippines earned their invitation by virtue of finishing fourth in the inaugural HSBC Asian Sevens Series last year. This will be the first time the Philippines will take part in the IRB World Series. The two nations will become the 50th and 51st countries to compete at the Hong Kong Sevens since its inception in 1976.
The Philippines were tied alongside South Korea in fourth place at the end of the Asian Sevens Series, but pipped the Koreans on a count-back. The other three Asian teams among the 24 teams announced for the showpiece yesterday by organisers are top-ranked Japan, No2 Hong Kong and No3 China.
'We only have four spots available for Asia now and these berths are decided by the HSBC Asian Sevens Series,' Gregory said..
'Last year we only had two ranking tournaments in Shanghai and Kota Kinabalu but this year we will expand it to three and next year to four.
'This will make it a fairer challenge for the rights to win a berth at the Hong Kong Sevens.
'As host nation, Hong Kong is assured of a berth, but we don't want to play that card and we prefer to be at the Sevens on merit. Similarly, I'm very happy to see the Philippines book their place. Two years ago they were just starting out and it goes to show that, through hard work and dedication, you can achieve goals.'
The 12 core teams in the Sevens World Series will again feature at Hong Kong Stadium. They are Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, France, Kenya, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, US and Wales.
Reinforcing Hong Kong's position as the largest and most international tournament in the series, the remaining seven teams hail from all parts of the globe.
Portugal, Russia and Spain bolster the tournament's European contingent, while Zimbabwe add to the African presence and Tonga rounds out the tournament's traditionally strong representation from the Pacific Islands. Canada and Uruguay will also return from the Americas.
'The competition is tough these days but we are delighted to have such a strong field back once again,' Gregory said.
Defending Hong Kong champions New Zealand won the South Africa Sevens and are now tied with Fiji, winners in the Australian leg, at the top of the world series table on 51 points.
South Africa are in third place on 48 points, followed by Dubai Sevens champions England in fourth on 47 points. France are fifth place on 39 points.
But all this could change in the run-up to Hong Kong with the Wellington Sevens and the Las Vegas Sevens to be played over the next two weekends.
Organisers, meanwhile, revealed the draw for the sold-out Hong Kong event will be held on February 16.