Sakura Sevens qualify for Rio Olympics

TOKYO (Nov. 29) – The Japan Women’s seven team booked their ticket to the Rio Olympics on Sunday by beating Kazakhstan 14-7 in the final of the second leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

The victory coupled with their win over the same opponent three weeks ago in Hong Kong ensured they will be Asia’s representative when rugby returns to the Olympics – the 15-man version of the game having featured until 1924.

“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.”

Japan opened the day with a 49-0 win over Sri Lanka and could have qualified with a game to spare if they had beaten Kazakhstan in the final pool game.

But Anna Yakovleva’s try, converted by Balzhan Koishybayeva dashed their hopes after Ano Kuwai had given the hosts a 5-0 halftime lead.

With the women’s competition a two-legged affair, Kazakhstan needed to win the final by 23 points or more to earn the automatic spot to Rio – points difference over the two tournaments determining the standings if the two sides finished with two wins apiece – Japan having beaten Kazakhstan twice in Hong Kong three weeks ago.

But they came up a Japan side that had learned from their mistakes a few hours earlier.

Japan gave way just two penalties while Kazakhstan conceded 12 and the Sakura Sevens made the most of their good discipline.

Chiharu Nakamura scored the opener following a good break by Marie Yamaguchi and Yume Okuroda added the conversion to make it 7-0 at the break.

Kundyzay Barktybayeva’s five pointer early in the second half, converted by Koishybayeva, brought the sides level. But it was Japan that 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 Asami.