It was impossible to miss the hurt on the faces of the Hong Kong women’s team at the Olympic sevens qualifier in Guangzhou on Sunday . After upsetting a bigger, stronger Kazakhstan in the semi-finals of the Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifier, they could not find an answer for perennial powerhouses China, who have now booked their ticket to next summer’s big dance along with hosts Japan, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Kenya and Fiji. But give credit where credit is due. Head coach Iain Monaghan, who took over duties earlier this year, had his players believing they could shock the favourites when virtually everyone had written them off before the tournament even started. It’s a similar story along Hong Kong’s four senior teams, as the women’s sevens now look to a repechage June 20-21 in a venue that has yet to be decided to secure the 12th and final spot in Tokyo. Shades of the men’s 15-a-side squad come to mind as they missed out after losing to Canada for the final slot at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. But to file Guangzhou as a loss might not be the right move. Monaghan’s team over-performed and were led by a trio of youngsters who look to be the future of the programme. Seventeen-year-old Florence Symonds, who stands 1.75 metres, probably has women’s 15-a-side head coach Jo Hull, who was in Guangzhou to watch the tournament, salivating at the youngster’s combination of size and speed. She spent almost the entire weekend doing the dirty work normally reserved for veterans, making hard tackles while forcing teams to commit multiple players to take her down. Alongside Symonds is Chloe Chan, 20, and Anna Birkett, 17, who did not disappoint when given the chance to show her prowess with the boot against Kazakhstan. While the present may seem like dusk, a solemn loss hanging over the group, the future is bright. A recent trip to Canada where Monaghan’s squad got to tussle with some World Series-calibre players surely paid off. They now know what it takes to play at the next level. Next weekend the men’s sevens team will be up and while the outlook is different, the story is similar. The men are coming off an impressive showing in the three-tournament Asia Rugby Sevens Series, in which they tied with Japan for the overall lead. When the Asia Rugby Men’s Sevens Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifier kicks off in Incheon on November 23, they will be heavy favourites to book their tickets to Japan. The men are a few steps ahead of the women and look to use a similarly stinging loss to fuel them to victory. In April at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, they came within a win of qualifying for the World Series, losing 28-7 to a highly skilled and physical Ireland after posting wins over Tonga and Chile. Incheon is theirs to lose as the only real competition, Japan, have already qualified as hosts. Qualifying for the Olympics will be a feather in the cap for a programme that has been banging on the glass ceiling for years. It is also being led by a youthful charge of next generational players including 20-year-old Max Denmark, who is coming back from an injury that forced him to miss the Hong Kong Sevens. View this post on Instagram Hong Kong Men's Sevens team received the Medal of Honour at the 2019 Honours & Awards Presentation Ceremony at Government House last Saturday. 2019年度勳銜頒授典禮於上周六於禮賓府舉行，香港男子七人欖球授勳榮譽勳章。 A post shared by Hong Kong Rugby (@hkrugby) on Nov 10, 2019 at 8:25pm PST The men’s 15-a-side team, who are ranked 24th, will head to Brussels to play Belgium (27th) on November 16 and then Spain (16th) in Madrid on November 23. These tests will be more valuable than games against the Springboks or All Blacks at this moment in time. Coach Andrew Hall will take nine players who could get their first caps and two youngsters, Paul Altier, 20, and Harry Sayers, 23, who already boast international caps and the latter also has Global Rapid Rugby experience with the South China Tigers. Let’s be honest, missing out on the World Cup was probably a blessing in disguise. Canada were smashed by Italy, New Zealand and South Africa, and had their final group match against Namibia cancelled owing to bad weather. Qualifying for France in 2023 is a much more obtainable goal and one Hong Kong can work towards with the idea of not only making the dance, but possibly winning a match in an upset. Hull’s 15-a-side squad, who have already had a taste of the World Cup in 2017 in Ireland, will now look to New Zealand in 2021 to remain in the conversation and every indication shows forward progress has not been slowed. Nobody likes losing, but there are always silver linings. Monaghan was upbeat after the sting of Guangzhou, telling his players to bank this moment. He knows they will live to fight another day. In testing China, they banged on the glass ceiling of the next level of rugby. Nobody said breaking into the upper echelons of the sport would be easy, but the Hong Kong Rugby Union is steering in the right direction.