Japan used their top players sparingly as they eased closer to regaining their Asian sevens crown on the opening day of the third leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Mumbai, India on Saturday.
With an eye on closing out their campaign to win back the Asian crown from Hong Kong, Japan coach Tomohiro Segawa kept his power dry at the Bombay Gymkhana using his big guns with care.
Japan’s newest sevens sensation Lomano Lemeki – who has scored 17 tries across the opening two tournaments and added three more today – mainly started from the bench as they finished their pool competition unbeaten, doing just enough to defeat Chinese Taipei and the Philippines.
“We used different players today because the conditions were hot and we need to protect all of the team across a two-day tournament,” Segawa said.
“It also gives us a chance to use some of the younger guys in action with an eye on the future, but of course if we win this weekend we will win the series and also qualify for the Hong Kong Sevens,” Segawa added.
Japan began the day with a 28-5 win over Taipei before knocking out the Philippines 39-7 to stay on course for the third successive title this season.
A victory at the India Sevens will crown Japan as Asian champions with one leg remaining – next month in Singapore. The top two teams in Asia will qualify automatically for the Hong Kong Sevens next March and a chance to progress to the HSBC Sevens World Series in 2015.
Arch-rivals Hong Kong, beaten by Japan in the last two finals at the Malaysia Sevens and Thailand Sevens, also stayed on course towards another titanic title clash, defeating China (40-5) and Malaysia (36-12) in the preliminary round.
“It was an efficient first day and I’m happy that everyone came through without any injury problems,” said Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees.
“We have to win this tournament to keep our hopes (of retaining the Asian title) alive and I’m confident we can do it even though it will be tough.”
Hong Kong, ranked second in the series standings, will face Singapore in what will be a relatively easy Cup quarterfinal but Rees said he was taking nothing for granted.
“Our eyes are on the final but we have to get there first. Yes we are in the nice half of the draw but we must be wary and just focus on our own performance,” Rees added.
South Korea also finished day one unbeaten sweeping past Singapore 41-5 and Kazakhstan 35-0, and they believe they can be the dark horses of the tournament.
“I’m happy with the way we are playing,” said skipper Yoon Tae Il. “We have a lot of young guys in the team because there are some big club competitions going on in Korea at the moment so the timing is not ideal. But the good thing is that no one knows our young players so we can be a surprise to the top teams in the tournament.”
South Korea will come up against Malaysia in the Cup quarterfinals and are likely to meet Japan in the semi-finals.Yoon said: “Our goal has been throughout the series to finish in the top three and we are in position to do that, so we have to be pleased. But with only the top two teams advancing to the Hong Kong Sevens we need to reach a final if we have any hopes of being in that group. To do that means we will need better teamwork and that will be our focus for tomorrow.”
Sri Lanka, who is joint-third with Korea in the standings, looked impressive as they hammered an all-Emirati United Arab Emirates team 55-7 which was the highest score of the day. The islanders then saw off a pesky challenge from Thailand, winning 28-5, to stay on course for another final-four finish.
There are 12 core teams participating at the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Mumbai alongside three invited teams from the region, hosts India, Iran and Afghanistan. These three teams played a round robin today to determine their position for tomorrow’s knock-out competitions. India finished with three wins, a draw (with Iran) and no losses, while Iran finished with two wins, one loss and one draw and Afghanistan, in only their second HSBC A7S competition, were winless on the day.
Tomorrow’s Cup quarters see Japan versus Thailand, South Korea versus Malaysia, Hong Kong versus Singapore and Sri Lanka versus the Philippines. The losers of the quarter finals will be routed to the Plate competition. Tomorrow’s Bowl quarter finals see Chinese Taipei through to the semis on a bye after Pakistan failed to attend Mumbai due to visa issues. China will play against winless Afghanistan while Kazakhstan take on India and UAE face off with Iran.
With one event to go after the India Sevens, Japan lead the series on 24 points ahead of Hong Kong on 22. South Korea and Thailand are tied-third on 19 and Thailand is in fifth place on 14 points, one-half a point ahead of sixth-placed Philippines on 13.5.