Japan will be among the favourites in both men’s and women’s competitions when the latest regional rugby sevens qualifier for Rio 2016 takes place in Hong Kong this weekend.
A total of 16 teams - 10 men’s and six women’s - will compete in the event from tomorrow until Sunday (November 8) at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Japan’s men will no doubt be buoyed by the displays from their country’s 15s squad, who performed superbly at the recent Rugby World Cup in England to win three of their four pool stage matches, including a memorable victory over South Africa.
One member of that team, winger Yoshikazu Fujita, will feature among Japan’s ranks in Hong Kong as they look to secure their place at next year’s Olympic Games.
Japan are also strengthened by the return from injury of playmaker Lomano Lemeki, who missed their winning campaign at this year's Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
"The World Cup was inspiring," said Japan captain Yusaku Kuwazuru.
"Now it is up to us."
Coach Tomohiro Segawa believes sealing a Rio 2016 berth will improve the image of rugby sevens back in Japan.
"Compared to the 15s side, sevens is not yet recognised that much in Japan," he said.
"It would be a great opportunity for the Japanese people to know about this game if we qualify for the Rio Olympics.
"And with Japan hosting the next World Cup (in 2019) and the next Olympics (Tokyo 2020), it would be huge for the sport back home."
Japan have been pitted against South Korea, China, Singapore and Chinese-Taipei while hosts Hong Kong have been grouped with Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines and Iran, with the top two teams from each pool advancing to the semi-finals.
Led by captain Max Woodward, Hong Kong are boosted by the return of winger Tom McQueen from injury and the confirmed eligibility of former skipper Jamie Hood and playmaker Keith Robertson after they received their Hong Kong SAR passports.
Unlike the men’s, the women’s competition is due to be played over two legs, the second of which is due to take place later this month in Tokyo.
Reigning Asian sevens champions Japan will once again be favourites to emerge triumphant from the tournament, which also includes China, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Guam.
The six teams will initially contest a round-robin competition before the knockout phase places are decided.
There was very little between the top four sides in the recently concluded Asia Rugby Sevens Series as Japan, China and Hong Kong all finished equal on 14 points with Kazakhstan enjoying success against the leading trio.
China, who finished second, are coached by former England sevens player Ben Gollings, who said "it doesn’t get any bigger at this stage".
"All teams have put a lot of resources and effort into this opportunity and to represent your country at an Olympics as a rugby player has never been done before, so to make that a reality is every players dream," he said.
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September 2015: South Africa book spot at Rio 2016 with victory at Olympic qualifier
September 2015: Rugby to embark on "golden period" claims Gosper ahead of 2015 World Cup
May 2015: England secure Team GB quota for Rio 2016 as Canada claim Amsterdam Sevens title