Japan slice through Italy to earn World Series berth
Imperious Japan became Asia's first team to win a core spot on the IRB Sevens World Series after brushing aside an ineffectual Italy in the final of the 12-team qualifying tournament.
The majority of the 40,000 fans might have wished it was Hong Kong, but after the home team fell short of their goal, the crowd threw their support firmly behind Japan and the Asian sevens champions delivered in style, speeding to a 26-5 win.
"This is just amazing. Our goal was to qualify for the World Series next season and we have done that," said elated Japan captain Katsuyuki Sakai.
"It will be a boost for sevens rugby which is not all that popular in Japan and an important step forward for the game as we look towards the Olympics."
Trevor Gregory, president of the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU), welcomed Japan's entry into the world stage.
Japan will play in all nine legs of the World Series next season and the last two legs this season in Scotland and England.
"Wearing my hat as ARFU president, I'm absolutely delighted an Asian team will at last be playing in the World Series," Gregory said.
"This has been a long time coming and Japan fully deserve to be there. But as chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, I'm sad that Hong Kong couldn't quite reach the final.
Japan had to endure many anxious minutes against Russia in the semi-final, needing a try in sudden death from super-sub Kosuke Hashino.
He was on hand to pick up a superb offload by the ubiquitous Lote Tuqiri to break open the 14-14 deadlock at full-time.
The Japanese picked up their game in the final and an early brace from Yusaku Kuwazuru set them on their way before skipper Sakai added a third to lead 19-0 at the break. On-loan 15s winger Kenki Fukuoka then sealed victory with a scything 50-metre run through the defence.
"Considering that we started preparing for this campaign only last June, I think we have done well. Certainly reaching the final was a bonus and the boys have done Italy proud," said Italy's coach Andy Vilk, a former England sevens star.