HK hope to book ticket to Doha

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2006, 12:00am

A big year on the international calendar for local rugby will get under way next month when Hong Kong attempt to win the solitary qualifying berth for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.

The Asian Games sevens squad will take on Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Singapore in a four-team, one-day tournament at the Hong Kong Football Club on February 4 with the winners qualifying for Doha.

'We go into the competition hopeful of doing well. We have recently had the experience of playing against Kazakhstan and Malaysia, and the players have been working hard on their fitness,' Hong Kong head coach Ivan Torpey (pictured) said.

The four teams will play a round-robin competition after which the top two teams will meet in a final to decide who qualifies for the Asian Games in December.

With room only for eight teams to take part in Doha, Hong Kong have been forced to take the hard route. Six countries earned automatic entry - defending Asian Games gold medallists Korea, silver medallists Taiwan and bronze medallists Thailand. Japan, Sri Lanka and China were also picked on past results. With hosts Qatar also qualifying automatically, only one berth remains to be filled.

Hong Kong will likely find it hard to qualify. During last September's Sri Lankan Sevens, the SAR were narrowly beaten 19-17 by Kazakhstan. Singapore will also be tough customers while Malaysia can be tricky too.

'Four of our overseas-based players will be available for selection but we will be missing Rowan Varty who cannot come back due to university exams,' Torpey said.

But returning is lock forward Ryan McBride, utility Mark Wright, and backs Li Chi-yung and Jeff Wong. McBride's presence will be a huge boost for Hong Kong, who can only field players with Asian Games eligibility requirements - born in Hong Kong or of Asian parentage.

'We have a training squad of 21 at the moment. We will name our final 10 soon after Chinese New Year,' added Torpey. Among others in the picture are Football Club backs Alex Gibbs and Ricky Cheuk.

Apart from trying to qualify for the Asian Games, Hong Kong's other major goal this year will be the 2007 15-a-side Rugby World Cup qualifying competition. The SAR will be attempting to win back their slot in the top tier alongside Japan, Korea and the Arabian Gulf.

To do this, they will have to beat China and Sri Lanka in the next round of qualifying in May. Hong Kong will host Sri Lanka on May 13 and then play away to China the following week. The winners of this group will move to the top tier with the final round of World Cup qualifying taking place during the Asian Championships in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November. Asia receives only one automatic berth into the World Cup.