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Japan win breathtaking sevens final in Montevideo
Uruguay were denied a famous home victory by Japan in a breathtaking World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series final that was only decided right at the death.
Japan defeated Uruguay 5-0 in an unforgettable final at Montevideo's Estadio Charrúa, bringing to an end the second tournament on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in South America.
After 22 minutes of rugby where both sides cancelled each other out, Japan captain Chihito Matsui finally managed to break the deadlock when he scored in the second half of sudden-death extra-time.
By reaching the final, though, Uruguay secured a place in the top eight in the overall standings and will now compete in the final play-off tournament for a spot in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, replacing the bottom-placed core team in the World Series in the following season.
Montevideo champions Japan finished top of the standings on 39 points from a possible 44, after following their bronze medal finish from the first tournament with gold in the second of the South American legs, while Hong Kong's consistency in reaching the podium on both occasions – second place in Chile was followed third place in Montevideo – was rewarded with the runners-up spot.
The winning try for Japan in the final of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series event in Montevideo pic.twitter.com/BEaFCegErv— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 24, 2020
Viña del Mar champions Germany beat Italy in the fifth-place play-off and ended up in third spot overall, followed by Chile, Uruguay, Tonga, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
World Rugby is currently examining all options in relation to hosting a third and final round of the men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, which was due to be held in Hong Kong in April, taking into consideration the dynamic and ongoing situation regarding Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and already full Olympic Sevens calendar year. Further updates will be issued at a later stage.
The final was a high tempo, end-to-end affair but with both defences standing firm in the face of relentless pressure.
Japan had the better of the clear-cut opportunities and could have opened the scoring in the first half of normal time had it not been for Benjamín Amaya's timely ankle-tap and a handling error from Kasushi Hano when he was five metres from the try-line.
Then, another piece of brilliant defensive work by Diego García stopped Kazushi Hano when it seemed the speedster was in the clear with fifty metres to run.
Uruguay's best chance to break the deadlock came with 90 seconds of normal time left to play when Kameli Raravou Soejima was sin-binned but they were unable to hammer home their numerical advantage and the scoreline remained at 0-0.
Another scoreless first half of sudden-death extra-time followed before Japan somehow stepped up a gear to finally find a way through, two quickly-taken tap penalties causing disarray in the Uruguayan defence and resulting in the match-winning try for captain Matsui to score the winning try.
South America and Asia for two spots
Both semi-finals were South American-Asian encounters with Japan prevailing against Chile and Uruguay were too good for Hong Kong.
Chile, who had lost inspirational captain Felipe Brangier to a knee injury, scored first but then fell away to conceded five tries to rampant Japan who ran out comfortable 31-10 winners.
In the second semi-final, Uruguay's smart kicking game, deployed by captain Felipe Etcheverry, twice led to tries against shell-shocked Hong Kong, the beaten finalists in the opening tournament.
First Baltazar Amaya crossed on the left-hand side and then Mateo Viñals went over on the opposite flank as Los Teros Sevens won 12-0.
Eight turns to four
Chile were a surprise winner in the opening quarter-final, beating Germany in an intense game that seemed to be heading for sudden death when, seconds from the end, Tim Lichtenberg's unconverted try drew the scores level at 5-5. However, the Viña del Mar champions kicked the restart out on the full. Patience was the key for Chile as they attacked, non-stop, for nearly two minutes until the crack in the German defence appeared and Agustín Planella gave his team the win.
Japan had no trouble in beating Jamaica 32-0 despite an unaccustomed edgy first half and a spirited performance from the Caribbean side. They were more composed in the second half, though, and scored four tries.
A brilliant pass under huge pressure from experienced campaigner, Guillermo Lijtenstein, created the opening try for Uruguay in their quarter-final against Tonga and they went on to add three more tries to win 27-7 and confirm their place in the semi-finals.
To join them in the top four, Hong Kong had to play the waiting game. Trailing Italy by two points with 33 seconds left to play, they recovered possession from a penalty and Max Denmark drew two defenders to put replacement Jamie Hood in for the winning try. An Italian win would have put them among the top eight in the final rankings.
Photo: Eitan Abramovich/GaspaFotos