Lady Luck smiles on Hong Kong in London Sevens qualifiers
Campaign to earn core-team status boosted as draw ensures top-seeded Scotland will not stand in way of semi-finals berth
The sun was smiling brightly - the hottest day of the year so far - and Hong Kong's players had a spring in their step as they embarked on their first training run yesterday knowing they would not encounter Scotland, the highest-ranked team at the London Sevens qualifying tournament, in the most important match this weekend - the quarter-finals on Sunday.
Scotland, the best of the three relegated teams from the HSBC Sevens World Series, were drawn in pool A alongside Hong Kong, Georgia and Zimbabwe. Pool B in the eight-team competition comprises Portugal, Spain (the other two teams dropping down after the weekend's Glasgow Sevens), Tonga and Russia.
The format to decide which three teams qualify to join the likes of New Zealand - once again crowned world series champions - in the 15-team top drawer will see an opening-day round-robin competition to decide rankings for the knockout phase quarter-finals on day two.
By virtue of having Scotland in their preliminary pool, Hong Kong will not face the 13th-placed team in the world series in the must-win match first-up on Sunday.
"Scotland have to be the favourites in the competition. They were a bit unlucky to be relegated and we are pleased we will avoid them in the crossover," said Hong Kong national coach Dai Rees. "This gives us every opportunity on day two with our first game being the most crucial match. The bottom line is if we win the quarter-final it gives us two shots at becoming a core team."
A win in the semi-final will ensure Hong Kong join the big boys, while a loss will put them in the third-place play-off with everything to play for.
Hong Kong have been seeded second in pool A behind Scotland, a recognition by the International Rugby Board for the performance of Rowan Varty and his side at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, where they finished 10th, having reached the Bowl final.
Hong Kong's satisfaction that Scotland are in their group on opening day was heightened by the fact they have a good record in recent years against all their other potential opponents in the quarter-finals, barring Spain.
"We have beaten both Portugal and Tonga the last time we met them, while we have won twice against Russia. Spain are the only team to beat us and that too narrowly.
"But we can't read too much into past results.
"All eight teams are capable of beating each other. What matters is how you perform on the day. We have got to play smart rugby," Rees said.
With 14 players in the squad, Rees' first major decision will be to prune his team by two. Keith Robertson has been brought in as cover for Jamie Hood, while Tsang Hing-hung is back-up for Anthony Haynes.
Hood and Haynes are carrying injuries, with the former's shoulder being the more serious.
"I will decide after our first couple of training runs. It will be good to name the squad as soon as possible so there is no uncertainty among the players," Rees said.