Japan's magnificent sevens stun New Zealand

Kazushi Hano of Japan scoring a try during his side's 14-12 win over New Zealand while being tackled by Rieko Ioane. New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens believes this result shows the gap between both teams has narrowed considerably.
Kazushi Hano of Japan scoring a try during his side's 14-12 win over New Zealand while being tackled by Rieko Ioane. New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens believes this result shows the gap between both teams has narrowed considerably.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO • Japan upset the odds with a thrilling upset over New Zealand in their opening rugby sevens match on Tuesday as All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams suffered a tournament-ending Achilles tendon injury.

The Brave Blossoms' shock 14-12 victory echoed their famous victory over South Africa in the 15-a-side World Cup last year, the biggest shock the sport has ever seen.

"It's unbelievable, you never see a minnow team come here and beat a team supposed to be a gold medal contender," said Japan's New Zealand-born playmaker Lomano Lemeki.

There was worse news to come for New Zealand as Williams was ruled out of the rest of the Olympics with a partial Achilles rupture and replaced in the 12-man squad by Sione Molia. Joe Weber was also ruled out with a shoulder injury.

New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said his squad, who play Britain in their final pool match today, was "obviously depleted".

"It's devastating for Sonny, to lose him so early in the tournament, and Joe Weber, both influential players as well," Tietjens said.

ANYONE CAN BE BEATEN

That's sevens rugby, the gap has closed considerably and if you're not up for it on the day, you'll be beaten.

GORDON TIETJENS, New Zealand rugby sevens coach, on being beaten by Japan.

"Sonny Bill's a great professional, he's very infectious, he certainly helps the younger players and has a great work ethic. It's such a shame because he's got to understand the game of sevens so well. He's absolutely shattered."

However, Tietjens was magnanimous in defeat, showering the Japanese with praise.

"It was disappointing, it's obviously the first time Japan have beaten us," he said. "But that's sevens rugby, the gap has closed considerably and if you're not up for it on the day, you'll be beaten."

New Zealand rebounded to beat Kenya 28-5 in their second pool match to set up a crunch game against unbeaten Britain today.

The British team beat Kenya 31-7 before edging Japan 21-19 to top Pool C.

Two-time defending World Sevens Series champions Fiji and South Africa also finished unbeaten in an enthralling day of high-octane action at a packed, sun-kissed Deodoro Stadium.

Fiji saw off Brazil (40-12) and Argentina (21-14) to top Pool A, while the Blitzboks zeroed Spain (24-0) and France (26-0) to finish the day atop Pool B.

But the moment of the day belonged to Japan in their historic victory over the Kiwis.

"As we played on, the boys started to get more confident," said Lemeki."New Zealand started to struggle a bit there so we thought if we keep moving the ball around, the big guys would tire somewhere and they did.

"We've just shown that any team can win in sevens."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline 'Japan's magnificent sevens stun New Zealand'. Print Edition | Subscribe