JapanMen carrying home hopes – Women aiming to compete
Having reached the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2019 on home soil, Japan will be desperate to make an even bigger impression when the Olympics comes to Tokyo.
As host nation, Japan’s men’s and women’s team automatically qualified for the rugby sevens competition.
Japan’s women’s sevens team are known as the Sakura Sevens.
Loosely translated, Sakura means ‘cherry tree blossom’, which is the country’s unofficial national flower.
A year after the Brave Blossoms stunned South Africa at Rugby World Cup 2015, Japan’s men’s sevens team made everyone sit up and take notice in Rio with a stunning 14-12 win over New Zealand in the pool stage.
“It is unbelievable. You never see a minnow come here and beat a team which is supposed to be a gold medal contender. I am still shocked, to be honest,” said Japan’s Lomano Lemeki.
Japan went on to achieve an eye-catching fourth-place finish, losing 54-14 to South Africa in the bronze medal match.
In Rio, the Sakura Sevens started with heavy defeats to Canada and Team GB, conceding 85 points and failing to score. But they bounced back to beat Kenya 24-0.
Promoted one year and relegated the next, Japan’s men have been a serial yo-yo team on the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Kensuke Iwabuchi’s team will be back as a core team again in 2021 having been deemed winners of last year’s Challenger Series.
Japan defeated Uruguay 5-0 in an unforgettable final at Montevideo’s Estadio Charrúa in the second and ultimately final tournament in February 2020 to top the standings.
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.
Former Japan international Hare Makiri will be in charge of the Sakura Sevens in Tokyo having come on board as head coach in December. Makiri played at Rugby World Cup 2007.
In Rio, the team was led by Keiko Asami, who became a member of the World Rugby Council in 2018.
It's in the blood
One of the rising Sakura Sevens stars is Rinka Matsuda, the daughter of former Brave Blossom and veteran of 43 caps, Tsutomu Matsuda.
The Nippon Sports Science University student made her World Series debut in April 2019 and brings speed and power to the Japanese side.
Kameli Raravou Soejima scored one of Japan’s tries in the epic win over New Zealand in Rio and has continued to be a stalwart of the side ever since.
Another player to watch out for is Youth Olympic Games 2018 bronze medallist, Kippei Ishida.