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The love affair with the abbreviated sevens version has resulted in China losing their focus in the 15-a-side game resulting in the national team struggling in the lower echelons.
They have been see-sawing between Division Two and Division three in the last couple of season, being relegated from the upper group last year. With the focus back home amongst the mainlands rugby-playing provinces being on this year’s China National Games, the national team could be at the receiving end once again as they struggle to field a competitive team.
But seeded number one, China could be too strong for Qatar who they come up against first-up before taking on the winner’s of the Guam v Indonesia encounter to decide who will be promoted to Division Two next year.
This will be their fifth consecutive season in Division Three and Guam, known as ‘the Rock’ for its volcanic base, will be hoping they have someone like Dwayne Johnson to lead the charge.
Heavily influenced by USA Rugby from where a number of their players are drawn, they will be a threat and should be able to comfortably ward off the challenge from Indonesia. But China, their likely opponents in the final, will be another story.
If Indonesia was able to get just a fraction of is population playing rugby, the rest of Asia better beware. The world’s fourth-most populous country – 242 million and counting – is still struggling to come to grips with the game.
Yet a couple of wins over Pakistan over the past two seasons has proved they are fast learners. At the moment, form points to another relegation play-off against Qatar, but the Rhinos have been known to thrive under pressure.
Having won Division Four over the last two years, Qatar has been rewarded with promotion for the first time. Like the Philippines who have made tremendous strides, Qatar has dominated their fellow-Middle Eastern neighbours Lebanon and Division IV counterparts Uzbekistan in recent years.
But this will be an entirely new ball game. The novelty of travelling to Kuala Lumpur will have to be quickly forgotten if they are to make their presence felt in this group. China is likely to be too strong and will possess more rugby nous in their opening game but if they can learn quickly that result could spur Qatar on to bigger things.