It is advantage Japan in the race to compete at Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 after they claimed the first of two tournament titles on offer on the Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in the Korean coastal city of Incheon this weekend.
The Sakura Sevens and beaten finalists China top the series standings, on 12 and 10 points respectively, and occupy the two qualifying places set aside for Asian teams at next year’s showpiece event in San Francisco.
Japan finished top of Pool A after comfortable wins over Singapore and Thailand book-ended a tough tussle with Kazakhstan, in which Honoka Tsutsumi scored twice to earn her side a 17-15 victory.
China’s passage through day one was a little more straightforward as they put 30 points on Sri Lanka and Korea before shutting out Hong Kong to win their final Pool B fixture 22-0.
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Both Japan and China breezed through their respective quarter-finals, winning 53-0 and 31-0 against Korea and Singapore.
The Sakura Sevens then despatched Hong Kong 28-0 in the first of the semis, but Kazakhstan once again showed their mettle to give Asia’s second ranked team, China, a real fright. The Kazaks led twice in the match but Xiaoming Yu’s try sealed a tense 17-14 victory for the Chinese.
Kazakhstan marked their return to the international fold after a two-year absence with the bronze medal following a 24-7 victory over Hong Kong in the third-place play-off.
In the final, the Sakura Sevens raced into a 14-0 lead but China roared back to come within a try with a couple of minutes left on the clock. Japan’s cause was hampered by the loss of Miyo Bativaklolo to the sin-bin, but the six players left on the field defended heroically in the face of intense pressure to hold on and take the title.
KOREA STUN JAPAN
There was nearly double cause for celebration for Japan over the weekend as the men’s side, champions when the series kicked off in Hong Kong three weeks ago, reached their second consecutive final.
However, Japan did not account for the brilliance of home hero, Yeon Sik Jeong, who scored two breathtaking tries and had a hand in another from Kun Kyu Han to help Korea to a shock 17-12 win.
For the losing Japanese side Dai Ozawa and Patrick Stehlin scored one try apiece and Kosuke Hashino put over the only conversion.
Japan remain stop of the overall standings on 22 points with Korea lying second on 20. Hong Kong picked up the bronze medal and eight valuable points to occupy third place on 18 points.
To hold any realistic hope of moving into the top-two and keep their RWC sevens dream alive, Hong Kong need to reach the final when the series concludes in Sri Lanka next month and hope at least one of their rivals fails to medal.
Photo credit: Dennis Muthuthanthri