Hong Kong rugby will break new ground when the team attempt to qualify for the China National Games for the first time this weekend in Shanghai.
With rugby sevens included as a medal sport for the National Games in Shenyang, Liaoning province - which are limited to Olympic sports - the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has been invited by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to try to qualify for the main event from August 31 to September 12.
"We have to play against 11 provinces in this pre-qualifier, with five places up for grabs," HK national coach Dai Rees said. "The main tournament will be six teams with Liaoning province getting automatic qualification."
The women's sevens team qualified last week. Although the men's squad will be missing a number of ineligible players, Rees will use this weekend's hit-outs as preparation for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow at the end of this month. "The eligibility requirements are tougher than even those for the Asian Games where if you are Hong Kong-born it is enough," Rees said.
"Guys like Jamie Hood miss out as, even though he was born here, he has only been living here for five years which precludes him from applying for a permanent ID."
The squad also will be without regular forwards Nick Hewson, Eni Gesinde and Lee Jones, and flyhalf Ben Rimene, all of whom played at the Hong Kong Sevens and London Sevens. Another forward, former skipper Simon Leung Ho-yam, is unavailable as he gets married this weekend.
"This is an opportunity to try out some new faces and expand the squad," Rees said. "This weekend will give me a chance to look at fresh blood before naming the squad for the World Cup."
Among them are schoolboy Chris Maize, who has represented Hong Kong for the past couple of years at Under-20 level, and 15s scrumhalf Charles Cheung, who will play as a forward.
The squad also welcome back Tsang Hing-hung, Fan Shun-kei and Gavin Hadley. After his involvement on the 15s stage with the Barbarians, captain Rowan Varty returns alongside regulars such as Kwok Ka-chun, Anthony Haynes, Alex and Tom McQueen, Cado Lee Ka-to and Salom Yiu Kam-shing.
"It is important we try to qualify for the main games as this event is another crucial performance indicator towards our continued stay at the Hong Kong Sports Institute," Rees said.