Schedule set for Asian climax to qualifying

(IRB.COM) Wednesday 23 April 2014
 
Schedule set for Asian climax to qualifying
Can Hong Kong - or Korea - stop Japan's dominance of the Asian 5 Nations?

The race to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Asia 1 will resume this weekend when the Asian 5 Nations kicks off with matches in Korea and Hong Kong.

The Asian 5 Nations champions will join South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Americas 2 qualifier USA in Pool B at England 2015 with Japan favourites to claim that berth. The runner-up will enter the Repechage to determine the 20th and final qualifier.

Japan, the only Asian side to have graced the Rugby World Cup stage, have won all 24 of their matches in the Asian 5 Nations with bonus points and will look to maintain that record with a seventh consecutive title.

The Brave Blossoms sit out the opening match day on Saturday which will see Korea host Top 5 returnees Sri Lanka at the Incheon Munhak Stadium and Hong Kong welcome the Philippines to the Hong Kong Football Club.

Japan will open their campaign away to the Philippines on 3 May before welcoming Sri Lanka to Nagoya and travelling to Incheon to tackle Korea. 

Their final match will be against Hong Kong at the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on 25 May, the last to be played there before it is demolished and replaced by a new arena in time for Rugby World Cup 2019 and the Olympic Games in 2020.

Coach Eddie Jones has named Japan Rugby Top League Rookies of the Year Keita Inagaki and Kyosuke Horie among seven uncapped players in his initial 40-man squad for the Asian 5 Nations, along with overseas based Shota Horie, Fumiaki Tanaka, Male Sa'u, Harumichi Tatekawa and Takahashi Kikutani.

Korea have finished as runners-up behind Japan for the last two years and will hope to repeat that feat because in 2014 it will earn them a match with Uruguay in the Repechage in August, the winner then progressing to the final stage of the qualification process.

Hong Kong will harbour their own goals of extending their RWC 2015 dream and have included 10 new caps in their 40-man training squad for the Asian 5 Nations, their first Tests since beating Belgium twice in December.

New structure for competition in 2015

“ARFU is excited at the prospect of another year of strong growth in Asian Rugby,” said ARFU President Trevor Gregory. “The culmination of the four-year Rugby World Cup qualification cycle will add an additional layer of depth and excitement for the season ahead.”

The Asian 5 Nations is a multi-tiered competition for the region’s teams and actually gets underway on Wednesday when UAE, who were relegated from the Top 5 in 2013, welcome Singapore to 7he Sevens in Dubai for their Division I encounter.

With the Asian 5 Nations to be restructured for 2015, Division I will only feature two matches this year with the winners of the encounter in Dubai and that between Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei in Hong Kong on 10 May retaining their position in the second tier.

These two winners will join the two bottom placed teams from the Top 5 with the elite tier to be restructured as a home and away format between the region’s three leading nations. The bottom side in the Top 3 will then play-off each year against the Division I winner to retain the element of promotion.

The new structure for 2015 will feature the top three performing teams from this year’s Asian 5 Nations contesting a full home and away series while the two bottom placed teams from the 2014 Top 5 competition will retain spots as the first and second seed in the 2015 Division I competition, joined by the winners of this year’s Division I matches.

This year will also see Qatar, one of the rising teams in Asian rugby, host Thailand, Malaysia and Iran at the Al Arabi Stadium, venue for the Sevens competition at the 2006 Asian Games from 20-23 May. Laos will host Division III East which features Guam, Indonesia and China in late May, with Pakistan welcoming Lebanon, India and Uzbekistan to Lahore for Division III West in June. 

The final tier, now known as Division IV after the old third and fourth tiers were split into Division III East and West, will see Brunei host Cambodia and Mongolia in June.