Japan will represent Asia at the Olympic Games next after beating China in a tense final in Osaka.
Japan have won the 11th of the 12 places at the Olympics. They join France (as hosts), New Zealand, Australia, USA and Ireland (from the World Series), plus regional qualifiers Brazil, Great Britain, Canada, South Africa, and Fiji. A repechage tournament including the second and third place teams from each of the regional qualifiers will decide the final place early next year.
As it stands, all of the qualifiers are World Series teams. Of the 12 teams in the series so far only Spain have not won a place in Paris – but they are in the repechage and must start that tournament as favourites.
The greatest threat to any World Series team always looked like being in Asia. Since China effectively knocked Japan out of their own Olympics in 2021, China and Japan had met in sevens times, with China winning three including a 22-21 win in the Asian Games Final in September. That was a typical result – since that 29-0 win for China in Tokyo every game between the two teams had been decided by seven points or less.
The Asian Games final and the Olympics was also typical of the way China have tended to target key tournaments. They seemed to be happy to sacrifice a chance to win the Asian Sevens title in October in order to concentrate on this event.
Both teams strolled through their pool games on the first day without conceding a point. China’s 50-0 demolition of Hong Kong – their best ever win against the region’s third best team – was an illustration of their form.
At the start of Day Two both teams conceded scores in their semi-finals, but otherwise won comfortably.
And so to the expected showdown. An early converted try for Feifei Yang gave China a lead in the second minute, but two tries for Mei Ohtan gave Japan a 14-7 lead at the break. Yume Hirano extended this to 21-7 shortly after the restart before Yang pulled a try back in the fifth minute, cutting the Japanese lead to 21-14 for the nail-biting final two minutes that saw Japan hold on for the win and a place at the Paris Games.
China - and Hong Kong – will have one more chance to qualify for Paris at the repechage.
Pool D: Thailand 22-0 Kazakhstan; Japan 43-0 Kazakhstan; Japan 19-0 Thailand
Pool E: Hong Kong 29-5 India; China 52-0 Guam; Hong Kong 48-0 Guam; China 62-0 India; India 28-21 Guam; China 50-0 Hong Kong
5th-7th Place Semi Final: Guam 0-52 Kazakhstan
Semi-Finals: Japan 33-5 Hong Kong; Semi-Final Thailand 5-29 China
5th Place: India 0-39 Kazakhstan
3rd Place: Hong Kong 12-0 Thailand
Final: Japan 21-14 China