For a long time Hong Kong were make-weights in Asian rugby but a determined new approach over the last few years has seen the national side reach new heights and they will enter this month's inaugural Asian 5 Nations will genuine title aspirations.
Japan, under former All Black John Kirwan, remain the continent's heavyweights with a thriving domestic league and a strong rugby culture, but another kiwi John Walters is challenging his Hong Kong players to think big as they prepare for kick-off against the Arabian Gulf on 25 April.
Part of Walters' approach has been to confront his players with a new type of challenge. Two tests were played against Tunisia, one won at home, the other lost in Tunis last weekend, but the net result is a more battle-hardened and experienced team.
"Tunisia were a lot more physical and there was obviously a bit of a size difference from a lot of the Asian sides, but it's our aim to be the most physical team in Asia so to play big African sides is pretty good for us," said Walters.
When the Asian 5 Nations kicks off this month Japan will still be the team to beat but Walters is quietly confident that his side can maintain the momentum that has seen their Asian ranking rise to number two in recent times.
"It's not going to be an easy competition for anyone. Arabian Gulf are a big physical side with lots of ex-pats, Kazakhstan have been on the rise recently and will be very tough. Korea we managed to beat last time but that's going to be a very hard game and of course Japan, a World Cup team," he said.
Stepping out of the comfort zone
Hong Kong's up-turn in form as followed on from a conscious effort within the union to challenge the old status quo and take the game and the players out of the comfort zone of years gone by where it was perhaps more acceptable to lose. Walters also has five of the current successful Hong Kong Sevens side in his 15-a-side team.
"We're trying to raise expectation across the board, from our under 14 team right up to our senior national team," he said.
"The sevens side is ranked number one, we (the 15 a side team) are ranked number two, our Under 20s are ranked number three, so we're slowly getting there. We need the public to demand more of us, that really helps push us along.
"People in Hong Kong don't grow up playing rugby on their back lawn and we need to look at the ways we identify our young players because you don't get the complete package so we need to look for athletes.
"We need to look for big boys, strong boys, fast boys and getting more Chinese players involved is also key but it will take time."
RWC 2011: "We're definitely looking to get there"
As a proud kiwi, Walters is also delighted by the union's ability to attract major 15-a-side competition to Hong Kong. The All Blacks and the Wallabies are set to play the final Bledisloe Cup match of the year at the Hong Kong Stadium.
"Our job here is to try and raise the profile of rugby and with the Hong Kong Sevens, the Sevens team, the 15s team and a lot of promotion and support from the union, we're doing that and hopefully it means that when the choices come up at school a few of the young kids will start ticking the rugby box."
While admitting that plenty of work remains to be done, Walters is also bullish about his side's chances of qualifying for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
"The winners of the 2010 Asian 5 Nations will qualify and if you come second you play off. We're ranked two so it's not beyond the realms of possibility," he said.
"It's a very tough road because we'd end up playing against a Pacific Island team to do it, but we're definitely looking to get there."
Listen to John Walters on this week's Total Rugby Radio show. LISTEN TO THE CURRENT SHOW >>
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