Japan were crowned Asia Rugby Sevens champions in fitting style, remaining unbeaten throughout the three-legged series which ended with the Sri Lanka Sevens on Sunday.
Japan defeated Hong Kong 29-22 in the Cup final to emerge as hot favourites to win the automatic Olympic berth for the region which will be decided at the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier tournament in Hong Kong in November.
“Winning this tournament and the Series is very good for us and our confidence especially as we bought in five new players following the Thailand Sevens. So it has been very beneficial for our programme as we look forward to the Olympic Qualifier” said Japan coach, Tomohiro Segawa.
“I am very happy that we have won all three tournaments this season and we haven’t lost a game. And I think the real reason for our consistency stemmed from our experience playing on the Sevens World Series last season” added Segawa.
Led superbly by the visionary Katsuyuki Sakai, Japan came storming back in the men’s final after Hong Kong had drawn first blood with Alex McQueen completing a sniping blindside run by Rowan Varty to score by the corner flag.
Japan hit back immediately from the re-start with Sakai collecting the ball and spotting a gap in the defence threaded his way through from inside his own 22 before off-loading the try-scoring pass to Goyo.
This was quickly followed by another try initiated by Lote Tuqiri and finished off by Matsui as Japan took a 17-5 lead. This was whittled down just before the break by McQueen collecting his brace to make the score 17-12 at halftime.
Japan stretched the lead to 22-12 before Hong Kong winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing ran on to a pass in space to dive over by the left corner to cut the deficit to five again.
Japanese skipper Sakai delivered the killer blow when he collected a basketball-like pass from Tuqiri to score under the posts and convert it himself to stretch the lead to 29-12. Chris Maize scored a consolation try but Hong Kong had to settle for second-best again.
Japan had earlier booked their berth with a 31-5 victory over China and a hard-fought 26-19 win over hosts Sri Lanka, easily one of the most-improved teams this season, who finished in fourth place in the overall standings. Sri Lanka pushed the champions for long periods of the game and if not for some poor handling in try-scoring opportunities, could have caused an upset which would have sent the home crowd into a party mood.
Hong Kong beat Chinese Taipei 33-5 in the last eight before hammering Malaysia 38-7 in the semi-finals. Hong Kong’s path to the final was made easier by the shock loss of South Korea to Thailand in the preliminary round. Korea ended winning the Plate competition to finish third overall in the series.
A consolation for Hong Kong was that finishing second earned them a berth – along with Japan – in the Sevens World Series qualifying tournament to be played at the Hong Kong Sevens in April.
It was double celebration for the Japanese with the women’s team also being crowned Asian champions after they had stunned China with a power-packed display to win the women’s Cup final 33-12 at the Racecourse Ground in Colombo. A steely defence was the bedrock of the Japanese women as they first defeated Hong Kong 17-0 in the semi-finals before romping past China in the final.
The Japanese women will now be one of the favourites to win the Asian women’s berth to the Olympics which will be decided over two legs next month in Hong Kong and Tokyo. But competition will be stiff as the top three Asian women’s sides finished equal on 14 points with Japan triumphing in the Series through a superior points differential.