Rugby union: Japan beat Hong Kong to secure Olympic ticket in Asia qualifier, S'pore eighth

Hong Kong's Rowan Varty (centre) is tackled by Japan's Katsuyuki Sakai (below) during the men's final of the Asia Rugby Sevens qualifier, in Hong Kong on Nov 8, 2015.
Hong Kong's Rowan Varty (centre) is tackled by Japan's Katsuyuki Sakai (below) during the men's final of the Asia Rugby Sevens qualifier, in Hong Kong on Nov 8, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Japan beat Hong Kong 24-10 in a nail-biting final of Asia's rugby sevens qualifying tournament on Sunday, to secure a spot at next year's Rio Olympics.

The Japanese, who had not conceded a point on the way to the final, trailed the hosts 0-10 at half-time but they hit back with four second-half tries to book their ticket to Brazil.

Coach Tomohiro Segawa said after the match that the victory was exciting.

"We panicked a bit (in the first half). But we started again from zero in the second," he told AFP through his interpreter.

Japan had roared through the tournament with victories over Chinese Taipei, Singapore, South Korea, China and Sri Lanka.

Singapore, whose only win in six matches was against Chinese Taipei (19-15) in the pool stage, ended eighth among 10 teams after losing 10-31 to Malaysia in the plate semi-finals and 12-24 to the Philippines in the seventh-place play-off.

South Korea beat Sri Lanka 26-21 for third spot, while China thumped Malaysia 38-5 in the plate final to be fifth overall.

Chinese Taipei thrashed Iran 22-5 to end ninth.

Olympic qualification further bolsters Japanese rugby's stock after national team the Brave Blossoms stunned South Africa and Samoa at the recently-concluded 2015 Rugby World Cup. Japan will host the tournament in 2019.

Segawa said: "We were given confidence when we beat South Africa. I can feel the boom in rugby after the 15-a-side. Many people also watched the sevens."

The final result was heartbreaking for Hong Kong, who kept Japan pinned down in a tigerish first half and were also defeated by the Japanese last year in the Asian Games.

Hong Kong captain Max Woodward told reporters: "To go from 10-0 up to lose the game is tough but that's sevens.

"You have got to... move on to the next one."

Japan will now take their place along with 11 other sides next year in Rio de Janeiro as rugby returns to the Summer Games after a gap of 92 years.

Dominant Japan also beat Kazakhstan 22-0 in the first round of the women's qualifying tournament, which concludes later this month in Tokyo.