Hong Kong will take on two of the best tier-three nations in the world, Belgium and Zimbabwe, in the Emirates Airlines Cup of Nations next month in Dubai in what is really a test of their ability to win a repechage match and qualify for the 2015 World Cup (15-a-side).
With Japan perennially dominating Asian qualification for the World Cup, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has set its sights on qualifying for the 2015 tournament through the repechage system where the second-placed team in Asia play teams from other continents to make it through to the showpiece event.
"We have to test ourselves against sides who are ranked higher or around us and see if we can step it up. We cannot just keep on playing teams in Asia and hope to make it through to the World Cup if we reach the repechage," said HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory. "Both Belgium and Zimbabwe will offer strong opposition as we look ahead to the future."
Belgium are ranked 23rd on the IRB listing while Zimbabwe are 29th, one place below Hong Kong. It will be the first time that Hong Kong will be meeting these two nations in a full international. The fourth team are hosts the United Arab Emirates, who figure annually in the HSBC Asian Five Nations.
"We need a higher level of competition so as to test ourselves. Originally, the plan was to tour Europe in December but we did that twice [in 2009 and 2010] and we were frozen out [by the weather] on a couple of occasions. So we decided to move to Dubai, and thankfully Emirates have come on board and with the help of the UAE Rugby Association, we have been able to go ahead with this for the second year in a row," Gregory said.
Hong Kong emerged inaugural champions last year, defeating Kenya, Brazil and UAE. The plan was to increase the tournament to eight teams this year, but those ambitions fell through.
"The aim is to have tier-three nations from each continent playing in a six or eight-team tournament. We have asked the IRB to help us. They are offering some assistance and we hope it will be increased in the future," Gregory said.
"The IRB has got to look at teams outside the top two tiers and try to bring them on and the only way that can be achieved is by having regular competition."
Belgium will offer the hardest test for the Hong Kong squad. The squad will be named at the end of this month.