KITAKYUSHU – New Zealand won the women’s Kitakyushu Sevens for the second straight year Sunday, beating France 24-12 in the final on another disappointing day for host Japan.
While the Black Ferns were treating fans at Mikuni World Stadium to another wonderful display of rugby, the Sakura Sevens saw their hopes of remaining in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series take a huge hit.
Japan finished 12th and last after losses on Sunday to the United States (34-14) and Canada (33-14), and the gap between it and Fiji and Ireland is now 11 points with just two tournaments remaining, in Langford, Canada, and Paris.
“The quality of attacking skill” was the biggest difference between Japan and the other teams, Japan captain Chiharu Nakamura told Kyodo News.
“The other teams have a good attacking style and attacking speed but we didn’t have enough quality, and we couldn’t use the space (in front of us) and connect (with our teammates).”
The Black Ferns — who opened the day with a 50-0 thumping of China before downing Australia 17-12 in a repeat of last week’s Commonwealth Games final — were forced to dig in deep to beat France in a thrilling final.
“I love Japan, I love the people, love the food and love this tournament. It’s a special occasion and we did well last year so it’s good to back it up this year,” said New Zealand coach Allan Bunting, who spent a number of years playing for Tokyo Gas.
Playing in its second tournament in a week, Bunting praised the resilience of his team.
“It’s a measure of how well you are doing sometimes, to win and then win again. But it is difficult and the players will be looking forward to some rest now.”
All square at 12-12 in the second half, two bits of individual brilliance from Portia Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong proved to be the difference as the Black Ferns closed the gap on Australia at the top of the standings.
“We’re pretty blessed, aren’t we? Can’t say any more than that,” said Bunting when asked to comment on having such talent in his team.
New Zealand has 50 points, six behind the Aussies, who finished in third place by beating Spain 19-5, revenge for their loss to the same opponents on Saturday in the pool stage.
Russia topped Fiji 30-7 for fifth spot — though Fiji will be delighted with the 10 points for sixth — England downed China 36-5 for seventh, while the United States won the Challenge Trophy (for ninth spot) by downing Ireland 24-19 in extra-time.
Japan’s two losses both came after it was leading, only for inexperience and an unforced error to hand the momentum to its North American opponent.
Against the United States, a failure to kick the ball dead and close out the first half when leading 7-5 not only resulted in a turnover, but saw Fumiko Otake sent to the sin bin. Ryan Carlyle added salt to the wound by giving the Americans the lead from which the hosts never recovered.
“Our defense was good but we couldn’t keep it up for the 14 minutes,” said coach Hitoshi Inada.
In their final game, an uncharacteristic error from Nakamura — who had an outstanding tournament leading her young players, seven of whom are age 20 or under — allowed Canada to turn around a 14-7 halftime deficit and score 21 unanswered points.
On the bright side, the four tries Japan did score on the day came from players with a bright future, with 18-year-old Yume Hirano grabbing a brace against the United States and 19-year-old Iroha Nagata and 20-year-old Yukari Tateyama scoring against Canada.
But Japan will need a huge change in fortune if it is to close the gap on Fiji and Ireland.
“The mistakes we made and the penalties we gave away proved crucial,” said Inada.