Japan’s men have qualified for the rugby sevens event in Rio 2016 after coming from behind to beat hosts Hong Kong 24-10 in the final of the Asian qualifier.
Hong Kong stunned their rivals by scoring two first-half tries to take a deserved 10-0 lead into half-time. But Japan responded in style to book their ticket for Rio and ensure the rugby fever sweeping Japan since the Brave Blossoms' good showing at Rugby World Cup 2015 continued.
Japan swept through the pool stages at the Hong Kong Stadium winning all four of their games without conceding a single point (38-0 v Chinese Taipei, 66-0 v Singapore, 47-0 Korea and China 34-0). And Sri Lanka proved no match for them either in the semi-final, succumbing to a 43-0 defeat.
However, in a final more evenly contested than many people anticipated, Hong Kong gave Japan a real scare when Alex McQueen scored in the left hand corner to hand his side a 5-0 lead. Captain Max Woodward then doubled the advantage when he touched down on the opposite flank a minute before the break.
But Japan never looked back once they drew first blood in the second half thanks to some wonderful footwork from Teruya Goto.
After Lemeki Lomano put Japan in front for the first time, Kazuhiro Goya and Katsuyki Sahai capitalised on Hong Kong mistakes to score twice in the final 90 seconds.
“To go from 10-0 up to lose the game is tough but that's sevens, you've got to take it on the chin and go on to the next one,” said Woodward. "I’m so proud of the lads. The way we came out showed we’re on a par with them.
"There were a few errors. They scored off our turnovers and that’s the level we need to be at.”
Like Japan, Hong Kong had eased through to the Cup semi-finals with a perfect four-from-four record in pool play, while Korea were dispatched 19-10 in the semi-final.
As the sides finishing second to fourth, Hong Kong, Korea and Sri Lanka still have a chance of making it to Brazil as they will take part in a 16-team cross continental repechage tournament where the 12th and final place at the Olympic rugby sevens event will be up for grabs.
Japan's women are on course to join the men in Brazil but face an anxious wait before they can start dreaming of Rio.
The women's competition is a two-legged affair, unlike the one-off tournament for the men, and reaches its conclusion in Tokyo on 29 November with the winner determined by the points accumulated during the two events.
A 22-0 victory over Kazakhstan allowed Keiko Asami's team to pick up six points as the first leg winners but an earlier 12-5 loss to China in pool play means they can take nothing for granted.
A 12-7 victory over China in Sunday's thrilling third place play-off has kept Hong Kong's slim automatic qualification hopes alive.
“(Third) gives us a mathematical chance, but a tough one. We really need to win and have other results go our way," said Hong Kong coach Anna Richards.
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