Veteran Laite aims for more glory after helping Japan qualify for women’s world series
Fiji-born 32-year-old plays key role as her team rally to beat South Africa in qualifier final at Hong Kong Stadium
Mateitoga Bogidraumainadave is Japan’s go-to woman when they need something special, and the Fiji-born bonecrusher duly delivered as her team beat South Africa 22-10 in the final of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series qualifier on Friday.
The 32-year-old, known by her nickname Laite, played a key role in Japan’s 31-0 semi-final victory over Italy and then in the final against the South Africans at the Hong Kong Stadium – with the victory enabling Japan to return to the World Series after a one-year absence.
It was Laite’s bustling run that helped Japan score there first try after South Africa had taken a 10-0 lead, after which her team took control of the match.
“I’m just so happy. It just shows that all the hard work we put in has paid off,” said Laite, who has been playing professional rugby in Japan for the past six years.
“To be able to return to the world series is just amazing.”
Japan will now join the big guns such as Australia and New Zealand in next year’s women’s world series, having dropped out of the elite for the 2016-2017 season.
Coach Hitoshi Inada said he hoped they would be able to stay in the main competition beyond next season.
“We have been training for this tournament since January and we have put in a lot of hard work,” said Inada. “So to win the final and reach the world series is really just reward for what we have been doing.
“Our target next year is to stay in the top eight. We don’t want to drop out of the elite again.”
Laite, despite being a veteran of the team at 32, said she hoped to continue playing with the Japanese sevens team.
“Yeah, I definitely want to be part if it [world series],” she said. “I worked hard for it so I want to be there with my teammates.”
Laite is also a celebrity in Fiji, where she learned her rugby but she wears the Japanese colours with pride.
“I feel happy to be a Fijian and share what I have as a Fijian playing with the Japanese team,” said Laite, who is based Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture. “I love Japan, I can speak the language and I have great communication with my teammates.
“I’ve been there for six years and they are my family.”
South Africa, one of the pre-tournament favourites, sped to a 10-0 lead by the sixth minute thanks to tries from Nadine Roos and Zenay Jordaan, who missed both conversions.
Japan knew they needed a score before half-time to stay in the final and Laite duly deliver, bursting through the middle before handing off to Chisato Yokoo to touch down. Mayu Shimizu converted to reduce the deficit to three points.
Soon after the restart, Ano Kuwai gave Japan the lead with a try before Honoko Tsutsumi and Shimizu added further scores to give their side what was ultimately a comfortable victory.