This weekend marks the start of the Asia Rugby Women's Sevens Series as the top eight teams from the region aim for a top-two finish and qualification for both next year’s HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong and the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco.
Hong Kong are hoping to go one better than in 2016 when they finished third behind Japan and China and are confident they can pick enough points over this weekend’s tournament in Korea and the final leg in Sri Lanka on 4-5 October to make it to the game's marquee event in San Francisco in July next year.
Qualification for Women's RWC Sevens 2018 would seal a momentous year for women’s rugby in Hong Kong as it would come on the back of a first-ever appearance at the Women’s Rugby World Cup, where many of the current sevens squad represented their country at 15s.
“We have only been back together for a couple of weeks but the last week and a half the girls have been training really well,” Richards said.
“It’s a little bit of an unknown how we are going to go with a limited build-up but hopefully the girls are really keen to play well this weekend.”
WORLD CUP STARS ON SHOW
The likes of Natasha Olson-Thorne, Aggie Poon Pak-yan, Colleen Tjosvold and Lindsay Varty (main picture) are backing up from the World Cup and Richards says the focus has been getting them mentally ready.
“What we tried to do more than anything was just freshen the girls up, there was no point trying to get them sevens fit,” Richards said.
“It was more about getting them in the right frame of mind and getting them excited, a lot of them have had a huge year with the World Cup. They did so well over there so I think they will bring the knowledge and experience they gained into this series.
“I’m hoping they will show the resilience they showed at the World Cup and the mental toughness and willingness not to give in.”
Hong Kong face Korea, Sri Lanka and China in Pool B, while champions Japan are up against Thailand and Singapore, the rugby sevens gold and silver medallists from the recent South-East Asia Games, and Kazakhstan in Pool A.
"The Asian Series is a different proposition from the SEA Games and we haven't been drawn into the easiest of pools but the team is undaunted and determined to better their showing from last year,” said Singapore coach Wang Shao-Ing.
Last year, Singapore finished fifth in the competition after three legs, and were also the plate champions.
As well as a ticket to the Women’s RWC Sevens 2018 and the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series qualifying tournament in Hong Kong, the top-two finishers and the next best four ranked sides will compete at next year’s Asian Games in Thailand.
JAPANESE MEN LEAD THE WAY
Running alongside the women’s competition in Incheon is the second round of the men’s series. Japan took the first tournament title in Hong Kong three weeks ago, beating the hosts 19-12 in the cup final at Kings Park, to lead the way on 12 points. Hong Kong have 10 with Korea, the bronze medallists in Hong Kong, back in third on seven points.
China, Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei await Japan in Pool A, while Pool B consists of Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Once the two qualifiers from Asia have been decided in mid-October, there will only be five men's and three women's places left to fill at RWC Sevens 2018 as the African qualifiers will also be known by then.
Oceania and North and South America are the last three regions to stage RWC Sevens 2018 qualifiers with the line-up for next year's jamboree due to be completed in January.