Uruguay men and Japan women earned core status on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 after they each emerged triumphant from the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2022.
Following three days of energy-sapping action in Santiago, Chile, Japan dug deep to turn in an impressive performance in the women’s final, beating European champions Poland 17-0.
“Finally, we’ve done it! It’s been a really long time,” Sakura Sevens forward Chiharu Nakamura, who scored her side’s opening try against Poland, said after the final whistle.
In the men’s final, Georgia ultimately paid the price for first-half indiscipline as Uruguay scored three tries to win 19-5, securing the 2022 Challenger Series title and with it, their place on the 2023 Series.
In the opening women’s semi-final in Santiago, Poland found themselves 10-0 down at half-time as China twice crossed the whitewash through Hong Ting Ruan and Xu Xiaoyan.
Malgorzata Koldej started the comeback within a minute of the restart, however, before tries from Katarzyna Paszczyk and Anna Klichowska gave the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Championship 2022 winners a seven-point lead.
Koldej then added her second try of the match, and 11th of the tournament, to give Poland a two-score advantage. Zhou Yan crossed for China before the end, but it came too late to prevent a 22-15 defeat.
Japan made sure of their place in the women’s final by beating Kenya by the same score, but the Lionesses ensured the Sakura Sevens had to work hard for victory.
The Sakura Sevens led 17-5 at half-time before Kenya narrowed the deficit to just two points as Laurine Otieno and Janet Okello, for the second time in the match, crossed the whitewash.
It set up a tense finish in Santiago, however, Wakaba Hara had the final say, touching down her hat-trick try to set up a final showdown with Poland.
Japan again started quickly in the final as Nakamura went over in the second minute, after Koldej had done brilliantly to haul Hara down before the line.
The Sakura Sevens were then forced to soak up a period of Polish pressure before a stunning Mei Otani break led to a try for Yume Hirano on the stroke of half-time.
Poland had been here before, in the semi-final, of course but in the final Japan stood firm and another brilliant try, this time scored by Michiyo Suda, put the stamp on a 17-0 win, the title and their place on the 2023 Series.
Meanwhile, China recovered from their semi-final disappointment to exact revenge on Kenya, who beat them on Friday, defeating the Lionesses 31-5 in the bronze final.
Tries from Yan Melling, Sun Yue and Gu Yaoyao put the Chinese 19-0 up at the break and they wrapped up third place with second-half scores from Wang Xiao and another for Yue.
Earlier on Sunday, Kazakhstan beat Belgium 17-5 to take fifth place, Argentina edged Colombia 17-12 for seventh, South Africa ended the weekend with a 29-10 defeat of Chile in the ninth-place play-off and Papua New Guinea won 29-12 against Mexico to claim 11th.
Hosts Chile could not have hoped for a better start to their men’s semi-final against Georgia, as Joaquin Huici touched down within two minutes of kick-off, and Vicente Tredinick converted.
Georgia, though, hit back through Teimuraz Kokhodze and after Alfonso Escobar was shown a yellow card, Miriani Modebadze went over twice in quick succession for the Lelos.
Tredinick converted Lucas Westcott’s 10th-minute try to cut Chile’s arrears to five points with four minutes left but that was as close as it got. Kokhodze scored his second try of the match before a late Lasha Lomidze score confirmed a 31-14 win for Georgia.
Uruguay at least ensured there would be South American representation in the men’s final at Estadio Santa Laura, though, as they held off a second-half comeback to beat Germany 19-15.
When Diego Ardao crossed the whitewash in the first minute of the second half, Uruguay held a 19-5 lead and looked to be comfortable.
Germany had beaten Uruguay in the pool stage and responded through Ben Ellermann and Chris Umeh but neither try was converted, which enabled the South Americans hold on for the win that put them within 14 minutes of core status.
Neither of the men’s finalists had previously been a core Series team but it was Uruguay who appeared to cope better with the pressure of the showpiece match.
Georgia were twice reduced to six players in the first half, both for not retreating 10 metres, and Los Teros took advantage on each occasion, scoring through Felipe Etcheverry and Bautista Basso.
Basso was himself shown a yellow card on the stroke of half-time and Georgia found a way back into the contest at the start of the second as Giorgi Tchuadze touched down within a minute of the restart.
However, that was as close as they got to Uruguay, who only made it out of Pool C as one of the best third-placed finishers and confirmed their place on the 2023 Series when Valentin Grille scored late on.
Despite defeat in the men’s semi-finals, the home crowd had something to celebrate on Sunday night when Chile overcame Germany 14-12 in the bronze final.
In what was a tight and bruising encounter, the Chilean defence held off some late pressure to finish the tournament on a high, converted tries in either half from Ernesto Tchimino and Diego Warnken ultimately enough to seal third place.
Earlier on Sunday, Hong Kong wrapped up fifth place with a 12-7 defeat of Uganda, Tonga edged Zimbabwe 28-26 for seventh, Lithuania beat Jamaica 34-15 to take ninth and Papua New Guinea finished 11th following a 40-19 win against Korea.