Japan Men’s and Women’s Sevens Qualify for Paris 2024

Japan’s men and women sevens teams have both secured their places at next year’s rugby sevens tournament at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games following their victories in the finals of the Asia Rugby Regional Qualifier, this weekend at Yodoko Sakura Stadium in Osaka. Having featured in both the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens in Rio in 2016 and as hosts in Tokyo in 2021, Paris will be the third straight Olympics at which both Japan’s men and women sides will compete in Olympic rugby sevens.

Drawn in Pool D alongside Kazakhstan and Thailand, Japan’s women, the Sakura Sevens went through their three-team pool unbeaten and without conceding a point. They defeated Kazakhstan 43-0 and Thailand 19-0 in the first day of action on Saturday, then faced Hong Kong, China in their semi-final on Sunday, putting in a solid performance for a final score of 33-5.

Having progressed to the final, they came up against an in-form China who had disposed of Guam 52-0, India 62-0 and Hong Kong, China 50-0 in their Pool E encounters. China then defeated Thailand 29-5 in their semi-final to book their spot alongside Japan in the final. With the reigning Asia Rugby Sevens Series champions, Japan facing the Asia Games gold medal winners, China, the final was always going to be a closely contested affair.

While China opened the scoring though an early try to speedster, Yang Feifei, a first-half brace for Mei Ohtani saw Japan take a 14-7 lead at the break. A try in the second half to Japan Captain, Yume Hirano put the hosts into a comfortable 21-7 lead, however China refused to go down without a fight, with Yang Feifei dotting down for her second try. Japan regrouped and worked to maintain their lead while running down the clock, eventually securing their qualification for Paris with a final score of 21-14.

Commenting following his team’s qualification, Japan Women’s Sevens Head Coach, Takashi Suzuki said:
“Our players fought until the very end in a tense and pressured atmosphere. I feel like we’ve finally made a start at this tournament, so we would like to continue strengthening our performances ahead of the Paris Olympics. The HSBC SVNS World Series will start soon, so we will prepare together well for that and use it as our springboard for the Olympics.”

Japan Women’s Sevens Captain, Yume Hirano said:
“Thank you to the fans this weekend for all their support. We’re very relieved to get this result and to qualify for the Olympics in front of our home crowd. We’ve made a strong start, so from here, we want to continue to work hard to compete with the top teams in the world so that we can win medals in Paris, and at the HSBC SVNS which start next month.”

Japan’s men had a less straightforward path through their four-team Pool A draw. After defeating India 50-0 and South Korea 34-0, they fell to China 14-21 in their final pool match. Japan then went on to defeat the UAE 21-5 in their semi-final to secure their place in the final. The other side of the draw saw China face Hong Kong, China in the other semi-final, with Hong Kong, China securing a hard fought 19-12 victory to secure their spot in the final alongside hosts Japan.

The men’s final was a thrilling match in which scores were tied at 14-14 with seconds left on the clock, and with the game looking to head to extra time. However, Takamasa Maruo showed great power and skill to twist out of a tackle and reach out at full-stretch to score the match-winning try just ahead of the final siren.

Commenting following his team’s qualification, Japan Men’s Sevens Head Coach, Simon Amor said:
“It was absolutely fantastic for the players to play in this home tournament. It’s the first time for all of them to get the experience of playing in front of their friends, family, and this wonderful home crowd. Their support was what made the difference for us in that last play of the match.

“We’ve be working hard on improving our fitness and speed, and most importantly, improving our decision making when we’re under real pressure. We’ve also put a lot of work into identifying a Japan style of play that fits the characteristics of our players.”

Japan Men’s Sevens Captain, Taisei Hayashi said:
“This was my first international tournament at home. It was a big opportunity for us to earn our right to participate at the Olympics, so I was excited and anxious. But our strong preparation and hard work over these two days saw us through. Our home crowd was a huge advantage, so we’re very grateful for all the support.”