Crisis at home overshadows weakened Asian champions Japan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2011, 12:00am

'We have to be brave so that the people back home can also be brave,' said Japan sevens coach Wataru Murata, as the Asian champions gear up for an emotional weekend at the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens.

Japan, weakened by the absence of three players who were not released by their employers, will play this weekend in black armbands as a tribute to the thousands of people who died in the earthquake and tsunami which hit the country on March 11.

'We have decided to wear black armbands as a mark of respect to the people who died,' said Murata, a former national 15s scrumhalf. 'Before every game, we will huddle for a moment to remember the tragedy and the pain it has brought, and hopefully, we will be brave.'

The tsunami has had a direct impact on rugby, with the Japan Rugby Football Union cancelling plans to host the inaugural Tokyo Sevens next month.

The 16-team tournament had included many top sides such as New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa. Prize money amounting to US$100,000 had been offered.

A JRFU statement said: 'There has been extensive damage by the earthquake and tsunami, shortage of electric power in the Kanto area as well as in Tokyo, and we cannot be sure if transportation will be fixed by the time of the tournament. Our concern is for the safety of players and fans, and as such we have taken the decision to cancel after discussion within the stakeholders.'

The problems in Japan had forced the sevens squad to arrive three days later than planned in Hong Kong.

'Our build-up was slightly affected as we had planned to come here last week,' Murata said. 'And, together with the unavailability of three players who were not released, it has caused a few small problems. But we are hoping to do well here, even though were are a young and inexperienced side.'

Only two players remain from the squad which defeated Hong Kong for the gold medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou in last November last year.

A few, including New Zealand-born Michael Leitch, were unavailable because of they were being selected for the national 15s squad preparing for the World Cup.

'We have four players - three from Tonga and one from Fiji - who are studying in Japan. This squad will also go on and play in Adelaide [next week's sixth leg of the series],' Murata said. 'But now, all we are thinking of is doing well in Hong Kong this weekend.'