Gulf women determined to crash their own party

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am

They are the hosts who have not been invited to their own party. Unlike the men's team - automatic qualifiers - the Arabian Gulf women will have to earn their place at next year's Rugby World Cup Sevens through sweat and hard work.

And captain Jenny Thompson is not happy about it. Yesterday she said the RWC decision was a blow for the women's game in the United Arab Emirates.

'We are very disappointed we didn't gain automatic qualification like the men's team. The United Arab Emirates is our home and we would have thought that would have meant direct entry,' Thompson said.

International Rugby Board Sevens manager Beth Coalter defended the decision to deny the Arabian Gulf women an automatic entry.

'This is the first time we are holding a women's World Cup Sevens and it will be the first time we are seeing the playing strengths of the teams. With only 16 places available, it is only fair for all the teams to qualify,' Coalter said.

The Arabian Gulf will be vying for one of three berths available for Asia. Nine teams are taking part this weekend, including Hong Kong.

'We will have to turn this disappointment into a thirst to win so we qualify for the World Cup. I'm confident we have a side capable of finishing in the top three. We have been working hard for the past two years,' flyhalf Thompson said.

The Gulf, mostly comprising expatriates like Australian Thompson, are drawn with China and Sri Lanka in pool B.

'Having the World Cup in Dubai will be fantastic for our region. It will boost the profile of rugby at home,' said Thompson.

Asian champions Kazakhstan are the top seeds and will meet Hong Kong and Singapore in the preliminary round, while the other pool comprises Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.

The winners of each pool and the best runners-up will advance to the semi-finals.

In the men's competition, the losing semi-finalists will be out of contention, but in the women's event they will compete in a third-place play-off for the last ticket to Dubai.

Hong Kong, led by Emma Holland, will be hard-pressed to defeat Kazakhstan, but spirits are high in the camp. The team, half of whom are Chinese, will need to defeat Singapore by a huge margin - in case of defeat against Kazakhstan - to keep their hopes alive of finishing as the best second-placed team and reaching the semi-finals.

'We have a tough draw but we are confident. We have beaten Kazakhstan before and hopefully this young team can do it again,' said Hong Kong women's coach Zanio Yong Chi-fung.

Kazakhstan and China are tipped to reach the final.

All to fight for

Nine women's teams are competing in the Asian qualifying tournament but only this many will reach the World Cup: 3