Hong Kong's job of qualifying for the 2013 World Cup Sevens in Moscow has been made easier with the decision to award Asia three qualifying spots.
The 2012 HSBC Asian Sevens Series has taken on added importance with the fourth leg in this season's schedule, a non-ranking tournament in Singapore, being designated as the Asian qualifiers for the Moscow World Cup.
'This is great news,' said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees. 'I thought only two teams would qualify from Asia, but obviously with one more place available, it makes our job a little bit easier.'
Hong Kong's sevens squad, which faces a test of character and strength at next month's Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as they bid to become a core IRB sevens team next season, have a proud record of having played in all previous World Cups.
Hong Kong qualified for World Cup Sevens in 1993 (inaugural), 2001 and 2009. In 1997 and 2005, they won automatic qualification by virtue of being host nation.
'It is a significant record, but times have changed,' Rees said. 'The game is unrecognisable from when the World Cup began. There is far greater strength and depth in Asia with countries like South Korea, China, and the Philippines pushing Japan and us.'
Japan and Hong Kong are the two top-ranked teams in Asia based on last season's Asian Sevens Series. Hong Kong's performance in the 2012 edition will be crucial as its ranking will play a role in the seeding for the Asian qualifiers.
'The three ranking tournaments in the series this year will decide the seeding and our aim will be to finish like we did last time - in the top two,' Rees said. 'If this happens, then at the Asian qualifying event, we will miss out on meeting Japan until the finals.'
With three places available for Asia, it gives Hong Kong more breathing room.
Japan and Hong Kong qualified for the last World Cup in Dubai, with the Arabian Gulf qualifying automatically as hosts.
Any hopes of Hong Kong hosting the qualifiers again were dashed with the decision to use the Asian Sevens Series as a pathway.
'It would have been nice if we could have hosted it as it would have given us home advantage,' Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory said. 'But we supported the decision to play the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup as part of the Asian Sevens Series.'
The three ranking tournaments at the 2012 Asian Sevens Series will be Shanghai, Borneo and Mumbai. The fourth-non-ranking event - the Asian qualifiers - will be held alongside the Singapore Sevens on November 4-5.
The women's Asian qualifying tournament for the World Cup Sevens is likely to be held separately.