Hong Kong handed tough draw for World Cup Sevens
Coach Rees philosophical as side lumped with England, Argentina and Portugal for Moscow showpiece in June
Hong Kong were brought down to earth - soon after a cosmonaut up in the heavens had read a message for the VIP audience before yesterday's Rugby World Cup Sevens draw in Moscow - as they were pooled with England, Argentina and Portugal in what looks to be a tough group in the preliminary round of the June showpiece.
"We always knew we would face two top core teams in our pool and England and Argentina fall into that category. Our target is to finish as the top Asian team at the World Cup and thus help qualify our under-18 team for next year's Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing," said Hong Kong sevens coach Dai Rees.
The International Rugby Board will use the World Cup to pick six regional teams to play at the Youth Olympics when rugby sevens makes its debut. Asia will get one spot. Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines are representing Asia at the World Cup from June 28-30.
A place at the Youth Olympic Games will add extra cachet for the sport in Hong Kong. Rugby sevens is on the verge of becoming the first team sport to gain elite status at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
"We all know how important it will be if our Under-18 team plays in Nanjing. Our profile among the rest of the Hong Kong sporting community will continue to rise," Rees said.
Hong Kong have grabbed the spotlight in the past with the men's sevens team winning a silver medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010. They also won silver at the 2009 East Asian Games. Last season, Hong Kong were crowned Asian champions, disposing of favourites Japan.
Hong Kong have played at every World Cup Sevens. But while the target will be to qualify the Under-18 team for the Youth Olympics, the bigger goal for Rees and his men will be to try and qualify to become a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series next season - by finishing in the top three in the eight-team qualifying tournament at the London Sevens in May.
Arch-rivals Japan were drawn with South Africa, Scotland and hosts Russia, while the Philippines were lumped with Samoa, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Yesterday's draw at the historic Petroff Palace in Moscow began with cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky sending a video message from the International Space Station in support of the World Cup. And when the teams were drawn out of the matryoshka dolls, defending World Cup champions Wales found themselves pooled with Fiji, Tonga and Uruguay.
Favourites New Zealand were with the US, Canada and Georgia while Australia, France, Spain and Tunisia completed the six preliminary round pools.
Rees said: "England has had an indifferent campaign in the World Series this season but this being a one-off tournament, I'm sure they will be focused. It is the same with Argentina [losing finalists to Wales at the last World Cup four years ago]."
Portugal, one of three new core teams this season, will offer Hong Kong the best opportunity to grab a big scalp.
In the women's competition, China were drawn with Australia, South Africa and Ireland.