China to miss Hong Kong Sevens for first time
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China’s Olympic dreams suffered a huge setback after a poor showing in the recent Mumbai Sevens rugby tournament knocked them out of the top three overall rankings in the HSBC Asian Sevens Series and out of the Hong Kong Sevens for the first time.
The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in March has been expanded to 28 teams and serves as a pre-qualification tournament for core team status in the HSBC Sevens World Series next year. But China’s failure to make it to the Hong Kong Sevens – they have been to every tournament since making their debut in 1998 - will mean they will miss out on the chance to qualify for the elite world competition and on the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the run-up to the Olympics.
“This is a huge blow for China. They have been invited to our tournament in previous years and must have felt they would be given a berth automatically. But this is not the case now with all teams in Asia having to qualify for the Hong Kong Sevens,” said Trevor Gregory, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman.
Hong Kong, winner of the Mumbai Sevens, automatically qualified for both the Hong Kong Sevens where they will play in the core-team competition as well as the London Sevens, the final leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series that doubles as the qualifying competition to set the three core teams for the next year series.
With one eye on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics – where rugby sevens will be a medal sport – China has embarked on a comprehensive sevens programme that now reaches across 11 provinces and includes overseas training trips for teams from the main rugby centres.
China entered the Mumbai Sevens ranked third overall in the series and had to finish in that position at the Mumbai Sevens to ensure a spot at the Hong Kong Sevens. But China experienced a shock loss to Sri Lanka in pool competition and failed to advance to the Cup competition. This resulted in the mainland slipping to fifth place in Mumbai and fourth place in the overall series.
Only the top three teams in Asia qualify for the Hong Kong Sevens – No 1 ranked Hong Kong, runners-up Japan and third-placed Taiwan. China finished on 37 points, from the three ranking tournaments in the Asian Sevens Series this season – Borneo, Shanghai and Mumbai.