A “stronger, more experienced and smarter” Hong Kong U20 squad head to Portugal on Thursday for the 2015 World Rugby Under 20 Trophy (U20T) – and coach Pale Tauti says they are determined not to be seen as just making up the numbers. A year on from the 2014 edition known as the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy when they took part as the tournament hosts, Hong Kong have qualified outright this time and they did it in emphatic fashion with Asian qualifier victories over Taiwan (44-5), Sri Lanka (32-7) and South Korea (58-7) in September. Those results, and the fact that many of the squad are still eligible to play under-20s rugby for Hong Kong, gave Tauti a boost as he announced Wednesday that he has selected 18 of the 26 players who won the regional qualifier in Sri Lanka. “Last year [at the JWRT] we lacked a bit of experience competing at this level and probably a few players were overawed by the occasion, but that is behind us and I think we learned that we belong here now,” said Tauti, referring to Hong Kong’s JWRT debut when the hosts lost all four of their matches but showed remarkable improvement as the tournament progressed. “We are excited. This is the first time we qualified in our own right and we have taken confidence from that. We aren’t going into the tournament just to make up the numbers. “We are returning stronger, more experienced and smarter. One of the lessons we learned was the need to improve our decision-making and our patience levels and I think the high number of players returning will be a real asset in addressing these issues. “We have a lot of young players who moved on from the JWRT to play prominent roles in the HKRFU Premiership and Premiership-A leagues, and we have leaders right across the park now. We are going to back ourselves a bit more than we did last year. “We’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and for quite a few of the guys this will be their last opportunity to represent Hong Kong at national age-grade level. They want to go out on a high,” Tauti declared. In the preliminary rounds in Lisbon, Hong Kong will face Tonga (May 12), Canada (May 16) and Namibia (May 20). The tournament final and placing matches will be played May 24. Canada top pool B as second seeds behind Fiji, who were relegated from the top-tier World Rugby Under 20 Championship last year and are in pool A with Georgia, Portugal and Uruguay. Hong Kong U20 squad Aiden Bradley, Thomas Cheung, Hugo Chui, James Christie, Daniel Davidson, Joshua Davies, Kenneth Encarnacion, Finley Field, Kevin Field, Li Tsz-hin, Tomos Howells, Calvin Hunter, Eric Kwok, Sjors Laurijsen, Richard Lewis, Callum McFeat-Smith, John William Markley, Raef Morrison (co-captain) , Alessandro Nardoni, Liam Owens, Alexander Post, Ron Siew, Cameron Smith, Hugo Stiles (co-captain) , Kyle Sullivan, Cheuk Hang-tang.