Siosifa Lisala was the hero for Japan as they began their bid to book a ticket to RWC Sevens 2018 in San Francisco by winning the opening leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
Japan are now favourites to qualify as one of the top-two teams from the three-legged series after Lisala's last-gasp matchwinner in the Cup final against hosts Hong Kong saw them pick up a maximum 12 points.
It brought an end to two days of superb action at Kings Park in Hong Kong, where Japan and Hong Kong were the dominant forces.
Both teams entered the showdown with perfect records, although Japan’s march to the final was the more convincing. With player of the tournament and top try scorer Lisala (pictured) in outstanding form - his decisive score in the final took him into double figures across the two days - Japan posted 44-0 and 40-5 wins over Malaysia and China to advance to their first Cup final since 2015.
Hong Kong breezed through the pool stages and then saw off Chinese Taipei, 50-0, in the quarters, before squeaking by Korea 22-17.
But the wins came at a cost for a side debuting five new players as two of their most experienced campaigners – both former captains – Jamie Hood and Mark Wright were forced out of the final with injuries.
A FITTING FINALE
The long-awaited meeting of the two sides that have dominated Asian sevens for the last decade didn’t disappoint, with a ding-dong affair keeping the fans at Kings Park riveted.
Hong Kong seized the initiative, scoring an unconverted try in the first minute through Toby Fenn, but Japan rallied well and controlled play for much of the half.
The tempo and the pressure eventually told, and Hong Kong went through a rough patch marked by turnovers and errors. A penalty against Hong Kong for offside at the ruck quickly led to a quick tap and go that put Naoki Motomura over for Japan’s first try. Katsuyuki Sakai’s missed conversion left the score at 5-5.
Danger man Lisala then pounced on an overthrown lineout near the Hong Kong line to score his ninth try of the tournament and take Japan into a 10-5 lead which was improved by two with Katsuyuki Sakai’s conversion.
Trailing 12-5 at half-time, Hong Kong took the game to Japan and, from a quick tap-and-go, Fenn ran through Lote Tuqiri to score his second try of the final. Rimene’s conversion levelled the scores.
But for Lisala, the match would have gone into overtime. The man who was named the DHL Impact Player at last season’s Paris Sevens delivered again, taking the ball back through the defence as the hooter sounded to score and give Japan the cup,
Japan lead the Asia Rugby Sevens Series on 12 points from Hong Kong on 10. Korea beat China 14-7 in the bronze medal match to take seven points into the next tournament, that they host, in three weeks’ time.
The series will conclude in Sri Lanka on 13-14 October.