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Rugby Sevens: ‘Awesome’ Japan celebrate core spot on World Series

Japan beat Italy 26-5 in the final of the 12-team qualifier to become the first Asian core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Photo: IRB / Martin Seras Lima.

Japan beat Italy 26-5 in the final of the 12-team qualifier in Hong Kong to become the first Asian core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Photo: IRB / Martin Seras Lima.

March 30, 2014: Japan became the first Asian core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series after steamrolling surprise finalists Italy 26-5 to win the 12-team qualifier, held in front of 40,000 fans at a packed Hong Kong Stadium as part of the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.

 

Italy, who upset hosts Hong Kong 12-0 in the semi-final, were no match for a Japan side motivated by a below-par display against Russia in their semi-final and agonisingly falling just short of qualifying in 2012, also in Hong Kong.

 

Lote Tuqiri, playing in his fourth Hong Kong Sevens and a regular on the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, was ecstatic after suffering the agony of a third-place playoff defeat two years ago when the World Series expanded from 12 to 15 teams.

 

“I’m feeling awesome, man. Really good, man. World Series! It’s great for Japan and for a team from Asia for the first time. It’s good for Asian rugby and also for Japan,” said the 26-year-old Fiji-born centre, who has played for Japan for six years.

 

“We felt gutted two years ago, but now the boys, the whole squad, did a really good job on the field. It was a good contribution from everyone, we tried our best and it was a great result.”

 

Japan needed a sudden-death try to edge Russia in the semi-final before beating Italy 26-5 to win the 12-team qualifier for a spot on the 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series. Photos: Power Sport Images for HKRFU.

Japan needed a sudden-death try to edge Russia in the semi-final. Photo: Power Sport Images for HKRFU.

Japan had needed a sudden-death try against Russia after coming from 14 points down to secure a 14-14 draw after regulation time, but otherwise Japan looked well deserving of a spot among the 15 big boys of sevens.

 

“There’s always ups and downs against Russia,” Tuqiri said. “We’ve played together heaps of times, but we managed to come through. We just kept our composure and came out with a win.”

 

In the final, big forward Yusaku Kuwazuru scored two early tries, the second after a great break by captain Katsuyuki Sakai, who also converted try to put Japan 12-0 up after only a 2½ minutes.

 

Sakai then made a great angled run to carve through a tired-looking Italy defence at the end of the half, the flyhalf converting his own try for a 19-0 lead.

 

Soon after the restart, Kenki Fukuoka – one of two Japan 15s wingers in the squad –scored Japan’s best try with a jinking run through several players before touching down in front of the South Stand, where Sakai again added the extra points.

 

Fabrizio Sepe, Italy’s two-try hero against Hong Kong, earned a huge cheer from the sympathetic crowd when he scored a late consolation try for Italy, but it was Japan who will replace this season’s bottom-placed side on the 2014/15 series.

 

Tomohiro Segawa’s side routed Uruguay (24-0), Trinidad and Tobago (41-0) and Cook Islands (26-7) to top their pool, before crushing Tunisia (38-7) in the quarter-finals and eventually defeating Russia 19-14 in the semi.

 

HSBC Sevens World Series Qualifier – Champions: Japan

1. Yusaku Kuwazuru

2. Lomano Lemeki

3. Lote Tuqiri

4. Pohiva Lotoahea

5. Dai Ozawa

6. Katsuyuki Sakai, captain

7. Tomoki Kitagawa

8. Jamie Henry

9. Josefa Lilidamu

10. Kosuke Hashino

11. Kenki Fukuoka

12. Yoshikazu Fujita

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