Japan’s rugby sevens players fired up by World Cup spirit heading into Olympics showdown in Hong Kong
Brave Blossoms sevens squad hope to ride wave of euphoria as they try to qualify for 2016 Rio Games at Hong Kong Stadium this weekend
Japan showed the world just how far they had come in the game at the Rugby World Cup and the nation's sevens squad are hoping to bring the same intensity that set that tournament on fire when attention turns to the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic qualifier this weekend.
"The World Cup was inspiring," said Japanese captain Yusaku Kuwazuru on Tuesday.
"Now it is up to us."
The sevens squad have been able to hear of Japan's heroics first-hand from Yoshikazu Fujita.
The 22-year-old has swapped 15s for the truncated form of the game this week after being part of the Japanese squad in England, the winger memorably making his mark with a try from the maul in the 28-18 win over the United States in Japan's last group game.
That victory followed the upset of that - and any - World Cup when the Japanese rolled the South Africans 34-32.
They were hoping that success would rally the nation behind them and Japan got that support - in spades - with an estimated 25 million of their countrymen tuning in via television when they beat Samoa 26-5.
Those results weren't enough to see Japan through to the quarter-finals, having also lost 45-10 to Scotland, but once the squad returned home attention quickly turned to Hong Kong and the Olympic qualifiers.There was a media scrum of 200 to see them off from Tokyo on Monday, double the expected amount, and Sunday's final will be televised live across Japan as rugby fever continues to grip the nation.
"We've really got the country's attention and now we have to hold it," said Fujita on Tuesday after his squad were given a blowout under the watchful gaze of coach Tomohiro Segawa at King's Park.
Fujita - who plies his trade for Waseda University and morphs into a scrum half for sevens - said although there were many highlights of the trip, the sense among all his teammates was that it was more an opportunity lost.
"It's simple - we didn't reach our target which was the quarter-finals," said Fujita." But the try was a good memory for me to share always, and I have the forwards to thank for it. We left the tournament knowing we have to improve in 2019 [when Japan hosts the RWC]."
Instead of those 25 million the 15s team had watching their every move on television during the World Cup, the sevens squad on Tuesday had just one TV crew and a whole mess of drying laundry hanging over them from tower block balconies as they built up a sweat.
"We've prepared well. We know Hong Kong Stadium, it is big and gets big crowds and it's an honour to play there," said Kuwazuru, who took over the captaincy from Katsuyuki Sakai in August and led Japan' on their title-winning and unbeaten run at this year's Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
"Every team here has been building up, we know that and we have to be prepared as they will throw everything at us."
The rumour that 15s star Michael Leitch would be here for Japan was wrong but speedster Teruya Goto was seen darting around the artificial turf and the leading scorer of this year's ARSS looks set to be a handful again this weekend. Coach Segawa believes he has got the balance of his squad just right.
"We have been working on this squad since May and everything has fallen into place," said Segawa.