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A Fantastic five for five in A5N play and it is unlikely anyone will be able to stop the Brave Blossoms from dominating the sixth season of the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition.
Former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones’ first season in charge of the Asian juggernaut last year ended predictably with Japan once again making a clean sweep and pocketing four bonus points to boot, in an undefeated run to the final.
Japan scored a massive 312 points from their four games last season while conceding a miserly 11 points. The difference in the standards was starkly underlined by the fact that their try-line was crossed only once, by South Korea.
The points tally, for and against, will most probably be the measure of success for Jones as he bids to ramp up the momentum in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup.
Returned to the top-flight after an absence of a year and proved that demotion to the First Division in 2011 was just an aberration as they stormed to second place in the Top Five competition.
Traditionally regarded as the second-best team in Asia – in the past they have even beaten Japan without their foreign legion – the Koreans clinched the runner-up slot with a tense 21-19 victory over Hong Kong and will be determined to extend that dominance this year too.
With a number of their top guns playing in Japan, the Koreans will be an ever-present danger, especially at home and if they have their best available for selection.
Finished number two in Asia for the first time in the Asian Five Nations in 2011 but that stint was short-lived as they lost to Korea last season.
Will be determined to regain their position as number two but will have to contend with the vexing issue of player availability due to a crowded international sevens schedule which clashes with the Top Five competition.
Former Wales sevens coach Dai Rees, Hong Kong rugby’s head of performance will have to judiciously pick his side for the clash against the Philippines in early May with the London Sevens beckoning a few days later.
Hong Kong’s goal is to remain in the Top Five this season so that they will be playing in the 2015 World Cup qualifiers next year. But at the same time the city has big ambitions of becoming a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series too and London will be key as it is he qualifying tournament.
Has been the only team which has looked capable of matching Japan up-front but Hong Kong will be disappointed with their performance last year when they failed to cross the Japan goal line in a 67-0 loss. They will be hoping to make amends somewhat but their eyes remain firmly placed on doing just enough to stay in the running for 2014's direct Rugby World Cup qualification event.
Despite fears that the break-up of the Arabian Gulf in 2011 would decimate their strength, the United Arab Emirates performed exceptionally well, remaining in the top flight for the second successive season.
With former Wallaby Duncan Hall taking up the coaching mantle, the UAE has made do with its limited resources to cling on by their fingernails to the Top Five.
This was mainly due to a superb 46-31 victory at home to Kazakhstan. Yet, once again UAE will be under the cosh with the crucial game which is likely to decide whether they remain in the Top Five being against newly-promoted Philippines in Manila.
UAE Rugby's hopes will be enhanced by its attaining both official sports federation status in the Emirate and full IRB membership in the close season.
They are most successful team in the Asian Five Nations next to Japan. The Volcanoes have lost only one match in the past five years, losing to South Korea in Division One in 2011.
Stormed into the Top Five with an unbeaten run in Division One with wins over Chinese-Taipei, Singapore and Sri Lanka, and Australian coach Matt Cullen will be eager to build on this in the first season with the big boys.
Rugby in the Philippines is on a high with the sevens team qualifying for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow in June. It is the first time that a team sport from that country will be appearing in a World Cup.
They will be keen to cement the sport’s growing reputation by remaining in the Top Five this season and thus having a crack at qualifying next year for the 15-a-side World Cup too.