More quality matches for Hong Kong in revamped Asian championship
Hong Kong will get two bites at Asian powerhouse Japan in a streamlined 15-a-side Asia Rugby Championship next season.
The Top Five competition will now be a Top Three: perennial champions Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong - who will play on a home-and-away basis.
"This is better for us as we get to play more games against quality opposition, especially Japan," said Dai Rees, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance and technical development.
"The Asian competition will now provide us four tough games and together with the two autumn tests, most likely against Russia, it will mean we can look forward to six quality test matches next season," Rees added.
Since the Asian Five Nations came into existence seven years ago, Hong Kong has played the Japanese juggernaut only once every year.
Home-and-away ties will give a more meaningful shape to the elite competition but without the smaller teams, Hong Kong will have to get into the swing of things straight away.
"There will be added pressure on us as we won't have the chance to blow away the cobwebs and get in some practice before the big games as in the past. But we will try to arrange some games before the competition gets under way," Rees said.
Hong Kong's first game will be against South Korea in late April before they come up against Japan. The Japanese are also likely to use the Asian tournament to blood new players as they try to build a strong base for the 2019 World Cup.
"It is unlikely that Japan will field their strongest team in this competition. That is the feeling we have got, but even an 'A' team with a sprinkling of their top players will be a handful," Rees added.
Japan have not lost a match in the seven years of the Asian Five Nations.
The second-tier countries - the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Singapore - will get the opportunity to challenge the bottom-placed Top Three team to replace them.