The Japan women's sevens team booked their ticket to the Rio Olympic Games on Sunday by beating Kazakhstan 14-7 in the final of the second leg of the Asia Rugby sevens qualifier at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo.
The victory coupled with their win over the same opponent in the first round of the qualifier three weeks ago in Hong Kong ensured they will be Asia's representative when rugby sevens makes its bow at Rio 2016.
“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.”
Leading the standings from the opening round in Hong Kong ahead of Kazakhstan with Hong Kong in third, Japan’s destiny was in their own hands and a 20-7 win over China in the opening match of the tournament set them on the road to success, and ultimately Rio.
The Sakura Sevens followed up with wins over Guam (39-0) and Hong Kong (27-5) to end day one unbeaten. With Hong Kong also losing to second-placed Kazakhstan their faint hopes of qualification were effectively over.
In the meantime, Kazakhstan scored 81 points and conceded only five in beating Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and China to win all three games on day one.
Japan opened day two 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 match.
Learning from defeat
But Anna Yakovleva's try, converted by Balzhan Koishybayeva, dashed their hopes after Ano Kuwai had given the hosts a 5-0 half-time 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 one win apiece.
But they came up a Japanese 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.
China beat Hong Kong for the second time in the space of a few hours to claim third place. Both sides will join Kazahstan in next year's global repechage which will determine the 12th and final qualifier for Rio 2016.
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