The race to join the 14 qualified teams and host nation USA at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 continues on Friday as Hong Kong stages the first of three tournaments on the Asia Rugby Sevens Series.

The top-two finishers from the eight-team line-up will get a ticket to San Francisco, the venue for next year’s showpiece event, as well as confirming their place at the Hong Kong HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifying tournament.

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With such high stakes, and the increased competitiveness of rugby sevens across the region, it will be fascinating to see who pulls through as the series moves from Hong Kong to Korea (23-24 September) before reaching its final destination Sri Lanka (13-14 October).

Defending champions Hong Kong and Japan, relegated from the world series earlier this summer, will be among the favourites to add their names to the roster of 14 teams who have already qualified for RWC Sevens 2018.

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DIFFICULT TASK

Hong Kong won all three rounds 12 months ago but the absence of leading stars such as Max Woodward has made the host nation’s task that much harder.

And coach Paul John, who has named five newcomers in his squad, knows there is no room for complacency as they prepare to tackle China, Malaysia and the Philippines in Pool A.

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“This series is so important. We can’t underestimate anyone,” the Welshman said, as he looks forward to his first involvement in the Asia Rugby Sevens Series,

“We’ve got to go as well as we possibly can as the series will determine whether we qualify for the World Cup Sevens and the qualifier tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens.

"This series is so important. We can’t underestimate anyone"

Hong Kong men's sevens coach Paul John

“China, Korea and Sri Lanka will be strong, while Japan will be near full strength after finishing sixth last year and have trained with Australia in the pre-season. They obviously want to get back on the World Series and qualify for the World Cup.

“We cannot let our guard down and that was the clear lesson for the boys. The sides are getting stronger so we must be at the top of our game, every game.

"We’ve done everything possible to get them physically ready. It’s just a matter of how they cope with competition now, and how they can muster up, mentally, to playing three games each day for two days.

Sri Lanka head up Pool B Ahead of South Korea, Japan and Chinese Taipei.