Japan make changes to squad for Round 2 of Asian Sevens Series in Malaysia this weekend

Japan make changes to squad for Round 2 of Asian Sevens Series in Malaysia this weekend

Influential playmaking captain Katsuyuki Sakai will return to the Japan sevens team to help get their title defence back on track at the second leg of the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Asian Sevens Series in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this weekend.

Influential playmaking captain Katsuyuki Sakai will return to the Japan sevens team to help get their title defence back on track at the second leg of the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Asian Sevens Series in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this weekend.

The rude shock of losing in the semi-finals in the opening leg in Hong Kong a fortnight ago has resulted in sweeping changes being made with Japan bringing in six new faces to the team that lost 28-21 to South Korea in the semi finals at Hong Kong Football Club.

“This is a very important tournament for us to defend our Asian Sevens title. With only three events on the series we need to reach the final and win it,” said Japan manager Yasuhiro Iijima on Friday.

“We are also looking ahead to the Asian Games and have brought in several players who are Asian Games qualified for this weekend’s competition,” Iijima added.

Hong Kong won the opening leg hammering South Korea 40-0 in the Cup final at home and will be keen to wrap up the series and win back the Asian crown they held in 2012 by winning in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.

“From our perspective the focus will still be on ourselves,” said Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber.

“We did things right in Hong Kong and we need to do them again in Kuala Lumpur. From a Japan perspective I suppose they are looking with eye on the Asian Games as well, in terms of preparation for that tournament and making up some ground on Korea and us in relation to the Series as well.

“In terms of the individuals they have brought in obviously there is some quality and expertise that come back in to their side but we have that quality and expertise in our group as well,” Baber said.

Hong Kong will be top seeds in Malaysia but Baber didn’t discount the quality of the rest of the opposition.

“Obviously the Korean side we saw in Hong Kong had quality. Japan missed out by a narrow margin on the final and Sri Lanka are up there in terms of the top four as well, so it will be interesting to see how those top four teams go this weekend,” Baber added.

Can Korea crash a second cup final in KL?

After reaching its first cup final since 2012 two weeks ago, South Korea will largely field the same squad that impressed in Hong Kong.

The team for Kuala Lumpur features three new faces in Youn Kwonwoo, Park Wanyong and Kim Sung Soo, all of whom are veterans of previous campaigns in both fifteens and sevens.

The experience in the side, and the fact that South Korea seems to be building momentum towards its hosting of the Asian Games at month-end, will mark them as strong contenders for the weekend and candidates to dismantle the pas de deux between Japan and Hong Kong on the Series over the past two seasons.

Fourth-ranked Sri Lanka have also made a couple of changes with star scrumhalf Srinath Sooriyabandara coming back from injury alongside former fifteens captain and flanker Yoshitha Rajapaksa for the Malaysia Sevens.

The action kicks off tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur at the Petaling Jaya Stadium as Philippines face Thailand at 11.30. Admission is free.