Asia Rugby have announced the details of their regional World Cup qualifier.
Asia’s World Cup qualifier will take place in Hong Kong in March, and will feature three teams – Hong Kong, Japan and Kazakhstan.
The announcement is something of a surprise as Asia Rugby had strongly hinted that China might be invited to the qualifier as well following their strong performance against Kazakhstan in the pre-qualifier last year.
However, that would have had the effect of making those matches irrelevant – of wiping out Kazakhstan’s win against China and forcing them to do it again. While encouraging China to develop its XVs team would have been commendable, changing the rules halfway through a tournament is never a good idea.
Instead the three remaining teams will playoff between 14th and 22nd March, with Hong Kong having the slight advantage of an eight-day gap between their two games, while Kazakhstan and Japan will have to play their two games just four days apart.
The format is the same as four years ago, when Fiji were in Kazakhstan’s place, but may not quite go to script as that that tournament did. Hong Kong will open against Kazakhstan on 14th March. While the hosts will start as favourites, they are ranked five places below Kazakhstan, a team they have never beaten. When they last played in 2015 in Almaty the Kazakhstanis won 40-0, having won 13-10 in Hong Kong the year before, and 58-14 in Singapore back in 2009. No-one should take anything for granted in this opening game.
Four days later Japan take on Kazakhstan, and while they are ranked above the Kazakhstanis their playing record on the field is little better than Hong Kong’s, with just one win in the fixture in eight attempts.
Finally Hong Kong and Japan meet on 22nd March in what is planned to be the decider, with the winner going to the World Cup, and the runner up to the repecharge.