Japan gears up for giant Sevens fortnight
With only seven days before they compete in Hong Kong, and then go on to play on home soil in Tokyo, Japan's men's Sevens team is looking to take two giant steps forward over the coming week.
In Hong Kong, Japan will line up in a tough 12-team competition to be played alongside the main event. There they will take on 11 other regional qualifiers from around the world in a bid to keep alive their hopes of winning 'core team' status on the 2013/14 HSBC Sevens World Series.
The top four of those 12 sides in Hong Kong will win a place to compete in an eight-team qualifying finale at the ninth and last round of the Series, the Marriott London Sevens at Twickenham in May.
In 2012 Japan were beaten to the third and final 'core' team place on the 2012/13 Series by Portugal, meaning Hong Kong will be their first outing on the world stage this season.
To try and make up for lost time, head coach Tomohiro Segawa currently has the Japanese players in contention for selection in an intensive, three-week training camp at the Ajinomoto National Training Centre in Tokyo, Japan's prime Olympic facilty. Following this camp, he will select his squad of 12 to compete in Hong Kong.
“I still remember the great feeling after beating Scotland in Las Vegas last season,” said 21-year-old wing in camp, Kazushi Hano, who is desperate to put in more match-winning performances in Hong Kong.
Tokyo Sevens on the horizon
Japan's other major focus entering the Asian leg of the World Series will be to put on a strong showing at their home event, the Tokyo Sevens on 30-31 March, one week after Hong Kong.
Last season the Japanese failed to win a match on home soil as the World Series returned to Tokyo for the first time in a decade. They were well supported by a encouraging year one crowd, though, and will be looking to repay them in 2013.
Such is its importance, the Hong Kong showpiece is taking up much of the team's attention at the moment, although each and every player dreams of stepping out in their country's colours on home soil.
“As a Rugby player, my ultimate goal is to play for my country in the Rugby World Cup 2019 that will be held on our own soil. At the same time, I'd love to play Sevens on the Olympic stage in Rio de Janeiro 2016. As far as I am concerned, it’s not a matter of choice. I love both Sevens and 15s, and I want to pursue both dreams,” added Hano.
Katsuyuki Sakai, who captained the team when Japan won the Asian qualifiers for the RWC Sevens in Singapore last October, is likely to retain the captaincy if he can prove his fitness, while coach Segawa has been given a further boost with the return to fitness of his most experienced Sevens player, Yusaku Kuwazuru.
Series qualifying explained: Hong Kong & London
From the end of the 2012/13 HSBC Sevens World Series, promotion and relegation from core team status comes into effect, with a pre-qualifying competition in Hong Kong (round 6) and a final core team qualifier in London (round 9).
The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will feature 28 teams and two competitions: In the first, the 15 current core teams and the winner of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, Hong Kong, will compete for the famous Hong Kong title and World Series points. In the second, 12 regional teams - two from each of the six IRB regions - will compete for four places at the core team qualifying final in London.
The Marriott London Sevens will feature 20 teams and two competitions: In the first, the top 12-ranked sides in the HSBC Sevens World Series after round 8, the Emirates Airline Glasgow Sevens, will compete for the London title and final World Series points. In the second, the 13th-, 14th- and 15th-ranked core teams after the Glasgow event will compete against the four qualifiers from Hong Kong and Asian champions Hong Kong for the three available core team places on the 2013/14 HSBC Sevens World Series.
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22-24 March 2013
Venue: Hong Kong Stadium
City: Hong Kong