Hong Kong 7s a crucial marker for Pacific teams

Sevens rugby may be just four months out from its Olympic debut but teams agree there is still something special about this weekend's event in Hong Kong.

Twenty eight teams are in town for the latest stop on the World Series, with 16 competing in the main draw and 12 hoping to secure a permanent berth on next year's circuit by winning the core-team qualifier.

Fiji will be defending both the Hong Kong title and their lead in the World Series this weekend.

Head coach Ben Ryan said the next three days were something of a dress rehearsal for the Olympics.

"A litmus test to see if everything we're looking to do is falling into place. I think every other team is going to be looking for a win in Hong Kong, to give them that confidence to know that when the pressure comes on you can deliver. So far the boys are in great shape and they want to defend their title this weekend."

Samoa coach Damian McGrath said Hong Kong was always a massive tournament.

"It's the blue-ribbon event, it's the one I think everybody wants to play at and we'd desperately love to do well, to try and emulate at least what we did in Vancouver. We're hoping that we can iron out some of the inconsistencies that have cost us [this season] - we've been working really hard on that - and take another step forward for the team."

The Manu had their best finish in Vancouver last month, winning the Plate title, and Damian McGrath hoped for further signs of progress.

"It's instilled a little bit of belief. We've shown that on the one-off occasion we can beat Fiji, we can match it with the big boys but in Vancouver we beat the fringe teams who are around us, who I was always confident we could best, like Kenya, Scotland who are around us in the World Series. We put up a really good show against New Zealand and then absolutely took USA to the cleaners in the Plate final so to beat teams and match teams of the like I've just mentioned has obviously just given the boys a little bit of belief in themselves and in what they're doing. It proves that in those games where we can eradicate our small errors that always cost us we are a team that are hard to beat."

Samoa open their Hong Kong campaign against Kenya tonight, while Fiji face Canada first up.

Meanwhile Tonga and Papua New Guinea are competing in the World Series qualifier, from which the overall winner will earn a full-time berth on next year's circuit.

It will be the first tournament for both teams since November's Oceania Championship.

Despite a disruptive few weeks, the former Tonga sevens coach still believes the team can be successful.

Andy Katoa was sacked by the Tonga Rugby Union last month and said he had yet to be paid after 16 months in charge.

He led the Kingdom to a runners-up finish at November's Oceania Sevens in Auckland, which qualified them for the final Olympic repechage tournament in June.

Their other main objective this year was to win this weekend's qualifier and despite the new coaching team of Siaosi Atiola and Taholo Anitoni selecting a new-look squad Katoa said they're still a chance.

"Since the last time we were in Hong Kong our goal was to continue this training for a full year because sevens right now is very very specialised - you know the days of prepping one month before going on tour, that doesn't work anymore. Sevens is a year-round programme now and I think we've done that and I wish them all the best. Just looking at the pool I think our kids will do well. My expectations are always high - they can put it together. I think they can get into the second day and challenge for a position, absolutely."

PNG coach Dougie Guise admitted his side was a bit underdone but believed they would still be competitive.

"Going on last year's form, where we surprisingly probably exceeded expectations making the semi-final and also beating the eventual winners Russia in the pool matches, we're not, I wouldn't say, confident but we trust our systems that we've got in place that how we can handle the teams like Spain, who has been on the circuit for a couple of seasons and are a more professional outfit. But at this stage we are looking at group stages first - whatever from there we will see what happens in the last couple of days."

PNG takes on Spain and Chile on day one, with Tonga up against Morocco and Brazil.

The Fijiana team are also back in action this weekend in the third round of the Women's World Series in Atlanta.

Fiji were beaten in the Plate final at the last event in Sao Paulo seven weeks ago and will take on Colombia, England and Australia on day one.