Japan were made to fight hard for a 20-8 victory in the final match of the Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 Asia/Oceania qualification tournament by a Hong Kong side that proved they deserve their place at next year’s flagship event in Ireland every bit as much as their regional rivals.
The Sakura 15s will join WRWC 2017 hosts Ireland as well as France and Australia in Pool C after qualifying as Asia/Oceania 1, while the Asia/Oceania 2 berth goes to runners-up Hong Kong who face games against WRWC 2014 runners-up Canada, the world’s number one ranked team New Zealand and Wales in Pool A. Pool B comprises defending champions England, USA, Italy and Spain.
Both sides went into Saturday’s game at the Hong Kong Football Club assured of qualification following earlier victories over Fiji.
Hong Kong made just one change for the clash from the side that started the 45-7 win against Fijiana, with Nga Wun Lau coming in at loose-head prop for Yuen Shan Wong, who dropped to the bench.
Having beaten Fiji 55-0 on Tuesday, Japan opted to make three changes, introducing Aya Takeuchi to their second-row, while Minori Yamamoto and Riho Kurogi came in at fly-half and outside-centre respectively.
JAPAN AT THE DOUBLE
Japan, who’d beaten Hong Kong twice to win yet another Asia Rugby Women's Championship title back in May, threatened to blow the home side away after scoring two unconverted tries inside the first eight minutes.
Hooker Misaki Suzuki was first to go over after dotting down at the back of an efficient maul, before outstanding full-back Mayu Shimizu finished off a multi-phased attack which left Hong Kong’s defence short of numbers on the right flank.
It looked ominous for Hong Kong when second-row Ka Yan Chan was yellow-carded in the 26th minute for not rolling away in the tackle but defiant defence kept Japan at bay and there was no further score up to half-time.
A moment of individual brilliance from Shimizu saw Japan stretch further out in front seven minutes after the restart. The teenage tearaway received the ball on the right flank after a scrum on halfway and had precious little room to work in. However, she managed to fend off left-wing Ka Yon Chong and got on the outside of the cover defence before showing a devastating turn of pace to run to the line unopposed. It was her fourth try in the space of four days after a double against Fiji.
HONG KONG SPIRIT
Hong Kong responded well to the setback and they arguably deserved more for their efforts than three points from the boot of Adrienne Garvey after Japan were penalised at the breakdown.
On 69 minutes, Japan’s forwards took it upon themselves to put the result to bed, a series of pick-and-goes ending with tight-head Saki Minami burrowing her way over the line.
Still, Hong Kong refused to lay down and Jo Hull’s side had the final word when centre Natasha Olsen-Thorne broke through the Japanese defence before finding number eight Nim Yan Li with an inside pass.
Japan can now look forward to their fourth Women’s Rugby World Cup, having appeared in the first two tournaments in 1991 and 1994 and then again in 2002, while qualification is a first for Hong Kong at this level.