Gone are the days of the home fans hitting Hong Kong Stadium chock-full of hope and expectation and the myriad calls of “only a World Series berth will do”. Hong Kong fans have developed resilience in recent years, and now they’ve added a solid helping of reality. Truth is, the mountain Hong Kong must climb to earn a spot on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series has always been tall, but now it looms as a peak as mythical as the end of the queue for the South Stand at Saturday lunchtime. “It’s getting harder and harder to win,” says Hong Kong coach Paul John, who scaled the mountain by winning the 2009 World Cup Sevens with Wales. In years past, a qualifying tournament without Japan always brought a sigh of relief – this year the absence of Hong Kong’s long-time nemesis is hardly cause for comfort. Not only are Russia back in the qualifier after being relegated from the series at the end of last season, but they’ve arrived on Hong Kong’s shores with the greatest ever sevens player at the helm – none other than Waisale Serevi. Hong Kong Sevens 2019 live blog: women's series qualifiers begin; hosts bow out after two chastening losses at So Kon Po Sledgehammers aren’t supposed to have finesse but, with a bit of help from the “King of Sevens”, this lot might. Ireland fell to Japan in last year’s semi-finals but that’s nothing compared to what they’ll dish up this time after a stunning end to last season saw them leapfrog Russia on the World Series standings despite only playing two legs. Think about that for a second – Russia returned 26 points from a full 10 events, Ireland swooped in and snared 27 points from the final two. Hong Kong Sevens 2019: live pool standings in World Series and qualifier They stunned the sevens world as the invited side in London, winning through to the Cup semi-finals before an ever-so-sweet victory over the hosts in the bronze medal match to finish third behind only Fiji and South Africa. On that form line alone they look unbeatable, but if one thing is certain in the world of sevens, it is that nothing is certain. The Germans will have steam coming out of their ears when they kick off their campaign against Uganda on Friday after losing in the last two finals, to Spain in 2017 and Japan in 2018. Germany exude a not-so-quiet confidence about the direction their sevens programme is heading and there was no doubt they found those losses hard to swallow. They’ll be expecting everything to follow the blueprint this time around. There’s also Chile, semi-finalists in the last two years who will be buoyed by the experience gained as the invited side in the last two World Series legs in Las Vegas and Vancouver. ‘No easy games’: Hong Kong men’s and women’s squads brace for sevens ‘chaos’ at home But the Olympics is all that matters for Hong Kong, especially now that World Rugby has confirmed Japan will be given direct passage as hosts, right? Wrong. The bigger picture may still exist, but Sevens veterans Jamie Hood, Alex McQueen, Lee Jones and Salom Yiu Kam-shing know all too well what it’s like to fall short in front of a packed Hong Kong Stadium. While that lot, and their eight teammates, may be dreaming of representing Hong Kong at Tokyo 2020, you can rest assured that will go out the window come Friday. You can temper things all you like, and revert to the bigger picture until the cows come home, but it’s still the Hong Kong Sevens and the pressure to perform is never greater for the home team than when they’re smack bang in the centre of the So Kon Po cauldron. While the swathes of people willing to pump up Hong Kong’s chances have been replaced by an air of realism due to the ever-increasing depth of world sevens, the expectation will still be there at 1.24pm on Friday when Hong Kong take on the Philippines. That clash offers two things – an easy kill first-up against the tournament newcomers and a chance to settle any nerves before the masses pour into the stadium. Then it’s on to Zimbabwe, who shouldn’t pose too many issues if Hong Kong are worth their salt, and Tonga, who are nothing if they are not unpredictable. That could well amount to three wins and a nice head of steam, or at the least safe passage through to the quarter-finals on Saturday night. All going to plan in pool play, a home crowd with beer flowing through their veins and Sweet Caroline ringing in their ears will no doubt dare to dream. How far Hong Kong make it is anyone’s guess, but you can be sure that whatever happens, it’ll still be a white-knuckle ride, even if the end result isn’t the be-all and end-all like it has been in previous years.