#RWC7s – Japan, China and Hong Kong carry Asian hopes

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#RWC7s - Japan, China and Hong Kong carry Asian hopes
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27: Yume Hirano of Japan runs with the ball in the game against Fiji during day two of the 2018 Sydney Sevens at Allianz Stadium on January 27, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Japan, China and Hong Kong will carry the hopes of the Asian Region at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens (RWC7s). The three-day tournament from the July 20-22 will be played at the iconic AT&T Park in San Francisco .

16 Women’s and 24 Men’s sides will compete for the coveted trophy; currently both held by New Zealand. But that was back in 2013 – today, rugby nations have developed tremendously. Japan surprised many at the Rio Olympics surprisinging New Zealand in pool play.

The Japanese have both their sides represented, with China in the women’s draw and Hong Kong, joining their neighbours in the men’s competition. The Asians might lack the size but, they make up for it with heart and eagerness to develop the game.

China and Japan promoting women’s rugby in Asia

With the booming interest in the game the world over, these two nations will help in promoting the game in their region. Increased participation will open door to women and men taking up the sport, to more viewers, fans and interest in the game.

The 2018/19 HSBC Sevens Series will again recognize this, with multiple tournaments on the calendar. The popular Hong Kong 7s – the mega-event known worldwide – and Singapore and Kitakyushu.

These teams are not here to make up the numbers [anymore]. They are here to compete, and to be the best in what they do. Underestimated, both Japan and China can be ruthless; like their male counterparts can too.

CHINA

Seeded: 12

Coach: Chad Shepherd | Captain: Yan Meiling | Twitter handle: @CRFAChinaRugby

RWC Sevens best result: Bowl winners 2009
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 12th (invited team)

China will return to the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2019 as a core team, after a dominant display at the qualifier tournament in Hong Kong. On that weekend in April, it saw the women win all six games, scoring 24 tries and conceding just 8!

Chen Keyi scored a hat-trick in the 31-14 win over South Africa in the final, and was a key figure in their run toward the Cup quarter-finals in the HSBC Kitakyushu 7s (where they appeared as the invitational team). That was a fortnight after their Hong Kong success, and showed many how committed the nation was to improving.

China had never reached a quarter-final on the world series, but their handling skills and pace ensured they were a handful for every team they faced as they narrowly lost to Spain and Fiji but beat Ireland.

With their entire squad under the age of 25, China are a team who can only improve with regular competition against the best sides in the world. See the full China squad here.

JAPAN (WOMEN)

Seeded: 11

Coach: Hitoshi Inada | Captain: Chiharu Nakamura | Nickname: Sakura Sevens
Twitter handle: @JRFURugby

RWC Sevens best result: Bowl quarter-finalists 2009 and 2013
HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2018 final placing: 11th

Smaller in stature than many of their opponents, Japan look to push the tempo and keep the ball alive with inspirational captain Chiharu Nakamura at the heart of everything and a regular challenger for DHL Impact Player honours.

Coach Hitoshi Inada has not been afraid to put his faith in youth, often fielding several teenagers in squads on the world series with the likes of Yume Hirano, Fumiko Otake and Emii Tanaka making a name for themselves.

Japan won the Challenge Trophy in Langford – their best result of the 2018 series – but unfortunately lost their core-team status after only one year back on the circuit. The women will be looking to finish the season on a high, with a strong RWC7s showing in San Francisco.

If the Sakura Sevens are to do that then Raichielmiyo Bativakalolo is likely to feature prominently, adding to the seven tries she scored in Paris that earned her a place in the tournament HSBC Dream Team. source (rwcsevens.com)

Japan women’s squad: Yuma Ohkuroda, Fumiko Ohtake, Tomomi Kozasa, Ano Kuwai, Sayaka Suzuki, Yukari Tateyama, Emii Tanaka, Noriko Taniguchi, Honoka Tsutsumi, Chiharu Nakamura, Iroha Nagata, Raichel Bativakalolo, Yume Hirano

Fijians boost Japanese Men’s side chances

Joe Seru and Josefa Lilidamu, together with Jone Naikabula and Kameli Soejima, will boost Japan’s chancs in San Francisco. Adding Fijian flair to the Japanese speed and determination, is a great mix. Include some Tongan power from Tevita Tupou, and opposition teams should be weary of the Japanese men.

JAPAN (MEN)

Seeded: 15

Coach: Kensuke Iwabuchi | Captain: Dai Ozawa | Twitter handle: @JRFURugby

RWC Sevens best result: First time participants in 2018
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018 final ranking: 19

Japan go into the tournament with a new head coach and high hopes of improving on their previous best finish of 13th. Former Brave Blossom Kensuke Iwabuchi; capped 20 times by his country at XVs – and a member of the squad that competed at RWC 1999 – has succeeded New Zealander Damian Karauna as skipper.

Former Cambridge University fly-half Iwabuchi, who was assistant coach 10 years ago before taking on top-level managerial roles, officially took charge of the reigning Asian champions at the end of May and has inherited a squad that will be competing on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next season following their victory in the Hong Kong qualifier back in April.

At the Olympic Games, Japan showed their true potential when they beat several top sides, including New Zealand, Kenya and France before losing to South Africa in the bronze medal match. Playing on the big stage may not be so daunting at the RWC7s – Gannbatte!

Japan men’s squad: Dai Ozawa, Ryoto Kano, Joe Kamana, Katsuyuki Sakai, Jone Naikabulam Jose Seru, Kameli Raravou Soejima, Tevita Tupou, Kosuke Hashino, Taisei Hayashi, Chihito Matsui, Taichi Yoshizawa, Josefa Lilidamu.

HONG KONG

Seeded: 19

Coach: Paul John | Captain: Ben Rimene | Twitter handle: @HongKongRugby

RWC Sevens best result: Plate final 1997
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2018 final ranking: Did not play

Hong Kong have featured in every RWC Sevens to date – twice as tournament hosts – but have never finished higher than 10th. However, the manner in which they booked their ticket to San Francisco shows they are ‘not just there to make up the numbers’ this weekend.

Going into the final leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in third place, Hong Kong were in danger of missing out on the showpiece event for the first time. That was until a sudden-death, extra-time win over champions Japan, at the Sri Lanka Sevens. That victory saw them secure the second of Asia’s regional qualifying spots.

Hong Kong have since reached the quarter-finals of the HSBC Sevens Series qualifier tournament, earlier this year. They performed well, before Chile ended their hopes of a core-team place in 2019.

See full Hong Kong squad here.

Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 – the Verdict

Like Scotland and Spain, you cannot underestimate the four Asian sides who have reached this stage. With the increase in investment and player depth, nations like China and Japan are ‘throwing everything into rugby’. The results here can only support that philosophy.

They will be tough to beat when on song. With the new knockout format…. anything can happen. Especially with the enigmatic Paul John at the helm for Hong Kong.

Both Japanese sides will be tough to battle against. The men’s side, bolstered with Fijian strength and Japanese courage, might be the fan favourites, once they get going in the first-up match against Uruguay.

However, the Chinese ladies can certainly shine this weekend. Watch Kameli Soejima of Japan and Chen Kiye of China to shine brightly.

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Follow all the action at this Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament with Last Word on Rugby. Join in the social media discussion, share your pics to @LWOSRugby and join the conversation on Facebook.

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