Japan - already the Asian Champions - confirmed their status as Asia's premier sevens nation by winning this weekend's second Asian regional qualifier in Tokyo, and with it the overall series title and a place in Rio Olympics next year.
The Japan sevens team booked their ticket to the Rio Olympics on Sunday by beating Kazakhstan 14-7 in the final in front of a good crowd at Japan's princple rugby stadium, Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo. The victory repeated their win over the same opponents three weeks ago in Hong Kong, ensured that they will join Japan's men's team as Asia's representative the Games..
“We are really happy,” said head coach Keiko Asami. “We started working towards this back in March 2011 just after the earthquake. We went to Hong Kong for the sevens and had a moment of silence and from that moment started working hard. So to qualify here at Chichibunomiya is great.”
China and Sri Lanka hired overseas coaches in the weeks leading up to the series, but in practice this appeared to have little effect on their results. Both Japan and Kazakhstan were unbeaten on day one, finishing off the challenges of their main rivals Hong Kong and China. If anything the gap between the two finalists and the rest of Asia seemed to have grown since first leg - Japan opened day one with a dominant 20-7 win over China, and ended it with an even more impressive 27-5 win against Hong Kong (both teams that they had lost to in the last year) while Kazakhstan, fourth in the Asian Championship only last month, beat Hong Kong 29-7 and then China 14-0.
As they had lost to Japan twice in the first leg, a win in the final alone would not have been enough for Kazakhstan to pip the hosts to a place in Rio - they had to win their pool game as well. This was the final game of the pool, and Japan went into the break 5-0 up thanks to a Ano Kuwai try. But the Kazakhstanis were not finised and an Anna Yakovleva's try, converted by Balzhan Koishybayeva dashed their hopes Japan's hopes of wrapping qualification up with a game in hand.
Even so Japan went into the final with a significant advantage. Thate 5-7 defeat meant that Kazakhstan needed to win the final by 23 points or more to earn the automatic spot to Rio. But they came up a Japan side that had learned from their mistakes a few hours earlier.
Japan's "Sakura Sevens" gave away just two penalties in the final while Kazakhstan conceded 12, and the made the most of their good discipline. Chiharu Nakamura scored the opening try following a good break by Marie Yamaguchi, and Yume Okuroda added the conversion to make it 7-0 at the break.Kundyzay Barktybayeva's pulled a try back early in the second half, converted by Koishybayeva, brought the sides level. But it was Japan who finished stronger with Mifuyu Koide going over for the decisive try, which Okuroda once again converted.
“I'm so proud we were able to qualify, along with the men's team,” said coach Asami.
The eleven teams who have now qualified for Rio are: Brazil (hosts); New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Great Britain (via WSWS); Colombia (South America); USA (North America); France (Europe); Kenya (Africa - South Africa qualified but it is reported that their Olympic Committee have declined the invitation); Fiji (Oceania); and Japan (Asia)
The twelve teams who will compete in the repecharge for the final place in Rio, are: Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Russia, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and China..
Pool games: Japan 20−7 China; Kazakhstan 34−0 Sri Lanka; Hong Kong 38−0 Guam; China 36−7 Sri Lanka; Japan 39−0 Guam; Kazakhstan 29−5 Hong Kong; Guam 7–22 Sri Lanka; Kazakhstan 14–0 China; Japan 27–5 Hong Kong; Japan 49–0 Sri Lanka; Hong Kong 7–17 China; Kazakhstan 36–0 Guam; Hong Kong 36–7 Sri Lanka; China 57–0 Guam; Japan 5–7 Kazakhstan
5th place: Sri Lanka 12–10 Guam
3rd place China 19–10 Hong Kong
Final: Kazakhstan 7–14 Japan;