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China clear favourites for Asian Games gold

Eight of Asia's top women's rugby international sevens team will be in action at the end of the month. Ahead of the Asian Games John Birch previews the teams competing and picks China out as clear favourites. The women's tournament starts on November 21st.

China

First tournament: Hong Kong 7s 1999
Tournament wins - 5: Asian 7s 2006, 2009, 2010; East Asia Games 2009; USA 7s 2010
IRB Sevens World Cup: 9th
Asian Sevens 2010: Winner.

China start as clear favourites for Asian Games gold. In remarkable form, the Chinese have won the last four of the five tournaments they have entered since the Sevens World Cup only Australia, at the 2009 Hong Kong Sevens, have managed to prevent total Chinese dominance. They have not lost to any Asian opposition since their shock defeat to Thailand in semi-finals of the Asian World Cup qualifier in 2008. Since then they have beaten leading sevens teams such as Italy, France, Brazil, and a strong US selection in the USA. As for playing at home the Chinese have never lost a game.

Hong Kong

First tournament: Hong Kong 7s 1997
Tournament wins 0. Best performance: Runners-up, Asian 7s 2000, 2001, and 2003.
IRB Sevens World Cup: Did not qualify.
Asian Sevens 2010: 5th

Hong Kong took part in the first womens international sevens in 1997, and for the next five or six years were a major force in Asian rugby only Kazakhstan preventing them from lifting the Asian title on three occasions. However, since 2003 they have rarely been in contention for any title. However, a kind draw has given them a good chance of a semi-final place - if they can beat Thailand, something they have managed twice in four meetings since 2004.

India

First tournament: Asian 7s 2009
Tournament wins 0. Best performance: Fourth, Singapore 7s 2010
IRB Sevens World Cup: Did not enter.
Asian Sevens 2010: 12th

India is one of the newer teams in Asian rugby and, while performances are improving, they are unlikely to trouble the major teams in this tournament. They did gain a surprise win over Singapore, who are in the same group, in this years Asian Pacific Sevens (one of only three wins against Asian opposition), but they have been significantly less successful in their meetings with Japan and Kazakhstan.

Japan

First tournament: Hong Kong 7s 1997
Tournament wins 2: Asian WC Qualifier 2008, Singapore 7s 2010
IRB Sevens World Cup: Bowl quarter-finals (13th=)
Asian Sevens 2010: 4th

For many years Japan flattered to deceive. A nation that should be one of the strongest in Asia, they achieved very little in their first few years of competitive sevens, and withdrew completely from competition between 2002 and 2005. However, since their return performances have improved significantly only Kazakhstan preventing them from winning the Asian titles in 2005 and 2007, while in 2008 they defied all the pundits to win the regions World Cup qualification tournament gaining revenge over Kazakhstan on they way. A strong performance at this years Asian 7s fell only at the semi-final stage, when the lost to China, while last weekend they were dominant in winning the Singapore Sevens, conceding only one try on the way. Given their form, and the draw, a semi-final place seems almost certain.

Kazakhstan

First tournament: Hong Kong/Asian 7s 2000
Tournament wins 7: Asian 7s 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007; Bangkok 7s 2009; Asia-Pacific 7s 2010
IRB Sevens World Cup: Did not qualify
Asian 7s 2010: Runners-up

One of the big two in Asian rugby and until China started taking the game seriously they were a shark amongst minnows. They can be unpredictable and occasionally lose games they would normally be expected to win - their failure to qualify for the World Cup being the most glaring example - but they have a record that has never seen them finish worse than fifth in any tournament. Since the World Cup only China and Thailand have beaten them. A semi-final place seems a racing certainty, and a silver medal will be the least they expect.

Korea

First tournament: South East Asia Sevens 2007
Tournament wins 0. Best performance 4th (of 5), SE Asia 7s, 2007.
IRB Sevens World Cup: Did not enter
Asian 7s 2010: 13th

Complete outsiders in this tournament. Korea only have a single win over Cambodia in 2007 - in an international sevens tournament - and were outclassed at the 2010 Asian Sevens, scoring only one try (against India in their final game). Very inexperienced, this will be a learning experience.

Singapore

First tournament: Hong Kong Sevens 1997
Tournament wins 0. Best performance Runner up, SE Asia 7s 2007, SE Asia Games 2007, Singapore 7s 2010. 4th at Asia/Pacific 7s 2010 was also as significant.
IRB Sevens World Cup: Did not qualify
Asian 7s 2010: 6th

A small player base is the main problem faced by well-supported Singapore. They have recorded occasional impressive results wins over China in 1999 and 2004, Japan in 2007, and Samoa and Tonga at this years Asia-Pacific Sevens but have rarely managed to maintain that performance throughout a tournament (the way the win over Samoa being followed by defeat to India being a prime example). Their crucial game will be against Japan, and they have an outside chance of winning but they have to learn from their defeat at home to the same opposition in the Singapore Sevens final last weekend.

Thailand

First tournament: Hong Kong/Asian Sevens 2000
Tournament wins 2: South East Asia 7s 2007; Borneo 7s 2009
IRB World Cup: Bowl quarter-final (13th=)
Asian Sevens 2010: 3rd

The leading team in South East Asia and shock qualifiers for the World Cup (beating China on the way), Thailand have always had the ability to rise to a challenge. Since the World Cup they have only lost of Kazakhstan and China, and would seem to be well placed for at least a semi-final spot though they have tripped up against Hong Kong in the past. Unlikely to go beyond that but you never know with the Thais!

Uzbekistan

First tournament: Asian Sevens 2003
Tournament wins 0. Best performance 3rd, Asian Sevens 2009
IRB Sevens World Cup: Did not enter
Asian Sevens 2010: 8th

The Uzbeks are relatively new to the sport, another outsider but also something of a dark horse. They should record at least one win against Korea, but might do even better. Though a semi-final spot will probably be beyond them, it is not impossible. Uzbekistan surprised everyone with wins over Hong Kong and Singapore at the 2009 Asian Sevens, and only eventually falling to Thailand at the semi-final stage. And their run in this years competition only ended at the quarter-final stage when the met China, after which they suffered disappointing defeats to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Could embarrass some bigger names.