Rugby sevens segment of Rio Olympic Games in 2016

By Indika Amarasinghe

Japan’s dream run in rugby union continued as they booked Asia’s berth at the rugby sevens segment of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when they defeated arch-rivals Hong Kong 24-10 in a gripping final at the Asia Rugby sevens qualifying tournament played in the Hong Kong Stadium in Hong Kong on November 8 (Sunday).

Japan were trailing Hong Kong 0-10 at halftime, but a stirring fight back saw them score four unconverted tries through Teruya Goto, Lomano Lemeki, Kazuhiro Goya and Katsuyuki Sakai to complete a remarkable turnaround victory.

The victory caps a superb year for Japanese rugby with the country still on a high after the Brave Blossoms’ stellar performance at the Rugby World Cup, which included a stunning win over the Springboks.

Hong Kong cheered on by their home fans, began promisingly with winger Alex McQueen and skipper Max Woodward grabbing a try apiece to give the hosts an unexpected 10-0 lead at the short whistle.

Japan, who had entered the final of this tournament without conceding a single try, looked edgy in the first half. However, they bounced back strongly and made sure Hong Kong buckled under pressure.

Errors started to creep into Hong Kong’s game as Japan kept their game tight. The winners began to dominate at the breakdown points and set pieces as they lifted the tempo and pace of the game. Their approach to the game in the second half resulted in opening up space for their speedy three quarters.

Teroya Goto was the first to benefit, powerfully handing off Rowan Varty to touch down by the left corner flag. The conversion was missed by Sakai.

Lomano Lemeki who had missed Japan’s winning sevens campaign at the Asian Rugby Sevens Series because he represented Japan in the Rugby World Cup in England, added a second try quickly. He sliced through the entire Hong Kong defence to score under the posts after Japan responded swiftly when presented with a penalty 10 metres from the opposition’s goal line. Sakai converted to give Japan the lead for the first time in the match.

Japan, who had knocked out Sri Lanka 43-0 in a one-sided semi-final, added a third try with four minutes left on the clock when Goto scored again after receiving a neat pass from Lote Tuqiri – an ex Australian Wallaby winger-who made the ball available by flipping the ball from the back of his hand.

Katsuyuki Sakai delivered the final blow when Hong Kong’s Chris Maize knocked on during a ruck formation resulting in the Japanese playmaker collecting the loose ball and darting down 20 metres to score under the posts.

Meanwhile Sri Lankan Men’s team had mixed fortunes, where they finished fourth overall after losing to South Korea 21 – 26 in the play-off for the third place.

Sri Lanka had enough possession through their lanky forward Shenal Dias and Jason Dissanayaka. However it was the Koreans who scored first. After a tremendous battle for supremacy the gallant Tuskers equalized with a brilliant try scored by centre three quarter turned forward Gayan Weerarathne.

In the second half Korea scored two tries in succession. One of these tries came when Shenal Dias was sin-binned for foul play. The Koreans powered their way to another try which sealed the match and the third place for them.

Captain Muthuthantri came off the bench to score a try to reduce the margin in points. Diminutive scrum half Srinath Sooriyabandara finished things with a spectacular try scored after covering 80 meters just before the final whistle.

However, Sri Lanka has another chance to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016 through an international repechage system. Here 16 countries will compete for the final rugby sevens birth at the 2016 Games. This qualifier will include teams from countries such as Hong Kong and South Korea (from Asian region) while Tonga, Australia, Samoa (from Pacific nations) together with teams from Africa, Europe and America. The winner of the tournament is assured  a birth at the Rio Olympics.