Coach Damian Karauna keen to make friends with Top League clubs as sevens takes a back seat after the Olympics
Last-placed Brave Blossoms in danger of World Series relegation as best players focus on 15s
Not even an Olympic semi-final berth has been enough to get sevens the attention it craves in Japan.
The Brave Blossoms languish at the bottom of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series table and, as was the case when Japan was last on the series in 2014-15, coach Damian Karauna is struggling to access players.
“We have to work on our relationships with the Top League sides and that’s what we want to do and are trying to do,” Karauna said.
“They have about a four-month pre-season, it’s tradition, and most of the players want to focus on their 15s.
“It’s just those barriers that we have got to break down and try to show that the sevens game, there is an importance to it and it puts us on the map.”
With everything geared towards the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and improving on last year’s fourth-placed finish in Rio, a consistent run on the World Series is crucial.
However, even that may not be enough to match or better Japan’s dream 2016 run that included victories over New Zealand and France.
“We’ve got a whole new crew and that is just what we have to work with,” a realistic Karauna said.
“We want to do well, but we’re just not there yet and our position reflects that.”
Only two players – Kameli Soejima and Katsuyuki Sakai – are in Hong Kong that played in Rio last year, with retirements and 15s decimating the side.
Japan are six points adrift of Russia having lost to invited side Uganda in Dubai and are in serious danger of being relegated after only one year on the series.
Karauna, who was the New Zealand assistant in Rio before taking over the Japan job ahead of this season, holds out hope he may be able to acquire the players required to make a late charge.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “We can only see for Paris and London, we won’t get any players for Singapore.
“It is very important to try to stay in here, we are chasing Russia right now.
“It’s just the consistency of top level sevens. If we drop out, which we could do, then we have to play in the bottom tier, but we have to keep that consistency and learn from these major sides.”
If Japan maintain their current form, it would continue their recent run of trading promotion and relegation on an annual basis.
They had a tough time of it in pool play at the Hong Kong Sevens, losing 36-0 to Fiji, 33-14 to New Zealand and 34-21 to Wales to drop out of Cup contention.