Kazakhstan host Hong Kong China on Tuesday as the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2023 gets underway in Almaty.
The winner of the match at the Almaty Sports Training Complex will go onto meet Japan in the tournament final at the same venue on Sunday.
As two WXV places are up for grabs in Kazakhstan, it means that Tuesday’s match is a de facto direct qualifier for the new annual global women’s 15s competition.
Whichever team wins will be guaranteed of playing in at least WXV 3 ahead of the final against Japan on 28 May. The winner of that match, and the tournament, will qualify for WXV 2.
Hong Kong China are currently 16th in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, having warmed up for the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship with matches against Sweden and the Netherlands in Amsterdam earlier this month.
Royce Chan Leong-sze’s side won the first of those, 22-17 against Sweden on 1 May, but lost 19-17 to the Netherlands five days later as Aileen Ryan missed a late conversion that would have levelled the scores.
Defeat dropped Hong Kong China one place in the rankings, below the Netherlands, but they remain above Kazakhstan in 19th.
Kazakhstan have played just three times since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2022, they were beaten 18-10 by Colombia at the Rugby World Cup 2021 Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai, and their only competitive action since then came against Hong Kong China in December.
Having travelled to Hong Kong for back-to-back matches, Kazakhstan lost the first 31-17 but led the second 12-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Tries from Au Yeung Sin Yi and Zoe Smith, both converted by Ryan, gave Hong Kong China a narrow 14-12 victory.
Those wins were Hong Kong China’s first against Kazakhstan, who had won each of the three meetings between the sides prior to December.
Chan will certainly not take anything for granted as she prepares her side to face the hosts in Almaty on Tuesday, in what is a crucial match for both teams.
“They gave us a big amount of pressure in the second game [in December], it was a marginal win,” Chan told World Rugby earlier this month.
“We were in our hometown, now they are the host for the ARC. We don’t know what will happen.”