International 7s Return To Tokyo

Japan rugby teamJapan's aspirations to be a medalist at the newest Olympic sport, not to mention its credentials as a legitimate rugby host, will come under the spotlight in April when international sevens returns to Tokyo.

The Japan Rugby Football Union will host the Tokyo Sevens at Chichibunomiya Stadium on the weekend of April 16-17, a tournament that is sponsored by The Yomiuri Shimbun.


"Now that rugby sevens is included in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, this tournament is designed to serve as a core driver to promote and develop rugby sevens in Japan," said JRFU president Yoshiro Mori.

The organizers are also hoping the tournament will help the host of the 2019 Rugby World Cup become a major part of the abbreviated form of the game.

"We want the Tokyo Sevens to be part of the Sevens World Series," Kenny Iwabuchi told The Daily Yomiuri.

Iwabuchi, a Cambridge Blue who spent a number of seasons with the Saracens club in England, is assistant coach of the Japan sevens team.

"The success of 2019 is linked with 2016," he said. "If our men's and women's teams participate and are competitive in Rio, that will attract more people in Japan to rugby."

Asia is, of course, the host of the most famous sevens tournament in the world--the Hong Kong Sevens--and Iwabuchi, who has played a number of times in the former British colony, hopes Tokyo can one day rival its Chinese counterpart.

"But it takes time," he warned. "There is such a great carnival-like atmosphere at Hong Kong. But it wasn't done in a day. It has a 35-year history and it was helped in the beginning by there being a lot of British and other expats over there who know how to enjoy sevens and rugby.

"The success of Hong Kong wasn't created by the players and organizers, it was created by the supporters."

And the supporters at this year's tournament will be able to watch some of the world's best.

Current sevens world champion Samoa will be joined in Tokyo by Fiji, Tonga, Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United States.

New Zealand has also committed a team made up of emerging sevens stars, while Asia will be represented by the hosts, China, South Korea and Thailand.

In addition, a women's game between Australia and Japan has been lined up.

The Japan team is currently in Las Vegas for the U.S. leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series. The team then plans a camp in Fiji before going on to Hong Kong and Adelaide.

And Iwabuchi hopes the Asian Games gold medalists will put the time together to good use.

"We will be aiming to get into the top four in our home competition," said Iwabuchi. "But in order to do that we will have to beat one of the top five countries in the world."

The tournament divides the 12 teams into four groups with the round-robin being played on the Saturday and the knockout rounds the following day.

"The Kiwis and Aussies are generally much bigger than us, which can cause trouble in the one-on-ones," said Iwabuchi. "But the great thing about sevens is the games are short, so if you start off OK then it is possible to beat the big countries."

Japan almost proved that in Hong Kong in 2006 when it came within 30 seconds of upsetting New Zealand. Dwayne Sweeney's last-ditch try saw the Kiwis home 24-19, but Japan's efforts that day brought the house down at Hong Kong Stadium.

Last weekend's Sevens World Series tournament in Wellington showed just how popular sevens rugby is.

Tickets for the event at the 35,000-capacity Westpac Stadium were sold out within 3-1/2 minutes of going on sale.

Organizers of the Tokyo Sevens--for which tickets go on sale on Feb. 12--are hoping the festival-like atmosphere that prevailed in the New Zealand capital will be picked up by those attending at Chichibunomiya.

"The JRFU is determined to make the Tokyo Sevens a great success where we can demonstrate the potential of rugby sevens in Japan to the rest of the world and to accelerate its development in Japan," said Mori.

via Yomiuri