Rugby

Sakura Sevens lose three times in Kitakyushu event

Kyodo

Japan’s women lost all three of their matches on Saturday, while defending champion New Zealand missed its chance at a consecutive-victories record in the Kitakyushu Sevens, the fourth leg of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.

Playing on home soil, the Sakura Sevens lacked the speed and power of their opponents, falling 43-0 to New Zealand, 33-19 to France and 28-21 to Russia.

They were unable to advance to Sunday’s quarterfinals and will head into the Challenge Trophy consolation round, to determine the ninth through 12th places.

The hosts were competing in the 12-team tournament at Mikuni World Stadium Kitakyushu as invitees as the six-round series stopped in Japan following meets in Glendale, Colorado, as well as Dubai and Sydney.

Despite the disappointing results, Japan head coach Hitoshi Inada said he has seen improvement in his squad, which finished bottom in Kitakyushu last year.

“(Before) we would give up more points to the teams we faced in the last two games. I think this proves that we are at a level where we can compete for a win or a loss,” Inada said.

“We need to control the ball tomorrow and pull off the offense,” he said.

New Zealand, winners of the past three tournaments, was unable to post a record-breaking 38th-straight victory.

The Black Ferns cruised past Japan in a one-sided affair to tie the previous win record with 37 wins, but drew 17-17 with Russia in an error-prone match.

“I think it was something that was in the back of our minds, but it certainly wasn’t a focus point for us leading into this tournament,” said assistant coach Cory Sweeney, who was acting head coach in Kitakyushu.

“I guess in some ways it’s disappointing not to continue with it, but I’m stoked with how the players stayed until the last second to come away with the draw,” he said.

The powerhouse Kiwis, missing some regular players due to injury, then suffered the largest upset of the tournament, a 29-7 loss to France.

Honoka Tsutsumi scored Japan’s first try in the Sakura Sevens’ match against France, before completing a brace in the second half. Seventeen-year-old Rinka Matsuda, making her series debut, crossed twice in Japan’s loss to Russia.

Australia, gold medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, opened strong, beating pool B opponents Spain and China, before a loss to Canada.

This season’s series doubles as an Olympic qualifier, with the top-four teams booking spots at Tokyo 2020. Japan already has an Olympic berth as host nation.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5