Asian teams set to begin road to RWC 2015
The Asian road to Rugby World Cup 2015 will begin in Manila on 15 April when the Philippines host Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei and Singapore in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations 2012 Division 1.
The Philippines, one of the up-and-coming nations in Asia having earned promotion as Division 2 winners last year, will host three double header match days at the Rizal Memorial Stadium with the competition for the first time taking a round robin format.
Sri Lanka will be the favourites to win Division 1 and secure an immediate return to the elite tier which in 2012 will feature Japan, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Korea and UAE. Not least with former England hooker Phil Greening taking up a two-year coaching contract.
The stakes are equally high for teams in Division 2 and Division 3 which also form part of the RWC 2015 qualifying process in 2012. Both tournaments will run concurrently in a festival of rugby in Kuala Lumpur in late May, early June.
Malaysia, Thailand, Iran and China will battle for top spot in Division 2 and the right to face the Division 3 winner – be that India, Guam, Indonesia or Pakistan – in a play-off to win promotion to Division 1 in 2013 to keep their RWC 2015 dream alive.
Now in its fifth year, the Asian 5 Nations is a six tier involving 25 members of the Asian Rugby Football Union, from four-time unbeaten champions Japan in the Top 5 to Cambodia, Brunei and Laos in Division 5.
“With the strong support of HSBC, the last five years has seen a tremendous growth in the interest and participation in Asian rugby,” said ARFU President Adisak Hemyoo of Thailand.
“The tournament has been able to raise the profile of Asian rugby around the region and the world, with a special focus on engaging new audiences, particularly at youth level. Asian rugby fans are once again eagerly anticipating this year’s HSBC A5N as we begin the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification.”
The Top 5 winner in 2014 will qualify for RWC 2015 as Asia 1, and while Japan will be favourite to preserve their status as the only Asian side to play on the Rugby World Cup stage, their rivals will be keen to build on the most competitive year ever in 2011.
Japan have not lost an A5N match in four years, but new coach Eddie Jones has unveiled a much-changed 30-man squad with just eight survivors of RWC 2011 and 14 uncapped players, putting the focus on youth and long-term gain.
This youthful squad could give their traditional rivals Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Korea – back in the Top 5 after winning Division 1 in 2011 – the best chance of claiming the Brave Blossoms’ scalp in 2012.
Boost for rugby in Asia
Hong Kong coach Dai Rees has his sights set on success in fifteens and, buoyed by victory over Brazil, Kenya and United Arab Emirates in the inaugural Emirates Cup of Nations last December, will be out to better their 45-22 loss to Japan last year.
The side finishing bottom of the Top 5 will be relegated to Division 1 in 2012, casting a shadow over their quest to qualify for RWC 2015. Last year that relegation battle went right down to the final round with Kazakhstan’s 34-18 win over Sri Lanka safeguarding their Top 5 position and relegating Sri Lanka.
United Arab Emirates, on their A5N debut, were one of the surprise packages of 2011 in finishing third behind Japan and Hong Kong and will hope to improve further under new coach, former Wallaby Duncan Hall.
“Over the years we have seen the matches become more and more competitive, not only have several teams reduced the margins against Japan, but the gaps are closing at every level as a result of the intensity of the HSBC A5N. This can only be a boost for rugby in the region,” said Jarrad Gallagher, IRB Regional General Manager for Asia.
The Top 5 runs for five consecutive weeks, starting on 27 April with UAE v Hong Kong at 7he Sevens in Dubai. In the build up to this match, the Division 4 competition will climax with Qatar, Jordan, Lebanon and Uzbekistan all eager for promotion.
The last tier of the A5N pyramid to begin is Division 5, which will again return to a round robin format involving Brunei, Laos and Cambodia in Phnom Penh from 26-30 June.