Hong Kong's campaign to become a core team in the annual HSBC Sevens World Series starts on home soil at its "bigger and better" event in March when the hosts will be in the company of the big boys.
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union yesterday announced the 28 teams to participate at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens from March 22-24 and Asian champions Hong Kong were confirmed as taking part in the 16-team core competition.
"We look forward to hosting the biggest and best Hong Kong Sevens in 2013. The decision to host the pre-qualification tournament alongside the HSBC Sevens World Series competition continues to reinforce Hong Kong's unique role as the host of the world's largest and most international rugby sevens competition," said HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory.
Winning last season's HSBC Asian Sevens Series has earned Hong Kong the right to direct qualification to the London Sevens when the qualifying tournament to unearth next season's three new core teams takes place.
As such Hong Kong will join the existing 15 core teams in the main event at the Hong Kong Sevens, the sixth leg of the World Series.
The remaining 12 teams will take part in a pre-qualification tournament, with the top four from this competition joining Hong Kong and the three bottom-placed squads from this season in an eight-team event at the London Sevens in May to decide promotion to the 2014 Series.
The 16 teams participating in the core competition are Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, France, Kenya, New Zealand, Portugal, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, United States, Wales and Hong Kong.
Reinforcing Hong Kong's unique position as the largest and most international HSBC Sevens World Series event, the rest of the 12 teams in the pre-qualification tournament hail from all over the world with two squads from each of the IRB's geographic regions.
Tonga and the Cook Islands will bolster the Hong Kong Seven's traditional Pacific Island presence, while Georgia and Russia represent Europe's hopes for World Series qualification.
Zimbabwe and Tunisia will add to the African contingent in March, while Mexico and Jamaica will both mark a return to the Hong Kong Sevens from the North American region.
Closer to home, the Hong Kong Sevens continues its role as the showcase event for Asian rugby with the region's second and third-ranked sevens teams, Japan and Taiwan, rounding out the regional participants.
Two more teams from South America will be decided after regional competitions late next month. This will complete the 12-team field.
The Hong Kong Sevens will be the first major international competition for the national squad, which Rowan Varty captained last season.
Although the London Sevens will be the crucial event, Hong Kong have also qualified for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow at the end of June.
The Hong Kong Sevens draw will take place on February 21 after the completion of the USA Sevens in Los Angeles.
After three legs of the World Series, New Zealand are top of the standings with 60 points followed by France (46) Fiji (44) and South Africa (41).