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Excitement in Osaka as teams ready for Asian qualifier for 2024 Olympics

Asia Rugby Olympic qualification

Following Samoa’s men and Fiji’s women qualifying for Paris 2024 in the latest round of Olympic Sevens qualification in Brisbane last weekend, teams now move to Yodoko Sakura Stadium in Osaka City, Japan, for the next round on November 18th and 19th.

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Coached by legend Brian Lima, Samoa will make their Olympic debut in France next year after they capped off an impressive weekend with a 24-0 defeat of Papua New Guinea in the men’s Olympic final at Brisbane’s Ballymore Stadium last Sunday.

Earlier, Fijiana sevens made sure of their place in Paris with a 54-0 win in the women’s Olympic final, also against Papua New Guinea. Neither Samoa nor Fijiana could turn their qualification success into a title triumph, however, as the All Blacks Sevens and Australia won the respective overall Championship finals.

Attention now turns to Osaka City as teams will engage in intense pool matches and play-offs over the course of two days. The ultimate victors of both the men’s and women’s competitions will secure direct qualification for the Rugby Sevens event at the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

In the men’s competition, the teams have been split into two pools of four. Japan are in Pool A with China, Korea – the only Asian team other than the host nation to compete at an Olympics – and India.

Hong Kong China, arguably the most experienced of the teams, head up Pool B and face UAE, Singapore and Thailand as they bid to make it to their first Olympics.

Japan, Thailand and Kazakhstan, meanwhile, are the three teams in Pool D in the women’s competition, while China, who along with the Sakura Sevens are the only other team with past Olympic experience, are joined in Pool E by Hong Kong China, India and Guam.

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The winners of the respective tournaments will punch their tickets to Paris, leaving just one spot left to fill in each 12-team event before the Olympics line-up is complete.

However, the dream will not be over for second and third highest ranked teams as they will go on to compete in the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in 2024.

Japan have appeared in both rugby sevens competitions at the Olympic Games to date, the men losing to eventual gold medal winners Fiji in the semi-finals at Rio 2016, and then falling short of the knockout stages as hosts in Tokyo four years later.

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The Sakura Sevens drew a blank in both their appearances, a defeat to China costing them a chance to progress beyond the pool stage last time out in Tokyo.

The Tokyo Olympics was played a year late and behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic so this will be the first time that any of the players in red and white, on the men’s team at least, will have played in a global sevens tournament before a home crowd.

For Osaka native and men’s captain Taisei Hayasi, it will be made all the more special with the tournament being played in his home city.

“This is my seventh season as a sevens player and this coming qualifying tournament is the first official tournament for us to play here in our country. So, I am happy about showing our game to our people here this time,” he said.

“It would be great to play at home and win the tournament and share that experience with our people. I am very much looking forward to it.”

For Yume Hirano, the Sakura Sevens captain, the important thing is to make sure her team don’t let the occasion, and the prize at stake, deflect them from their qualification goal.

“I think we are preparing well for the tournament. I don’t think we need to do anything special because we play in the Olympic qualifiers. We will stick to what we should do and play our game,” she said.

The Sakura Sevens are the Asia Rugby Sevens Series champions but missed out on the gold medal at the Asian Games to China, who Hirano identifies as their biggest threat this weekend.

“They have physical abilities and many of their players have good height and speed,” she said.

“I am sure they can be well prepared to play us. It seems that they are clear about what they need to do and they have the ability to execute that. We cannot afford to lose to them.”

The Sakura Sevens will be the last of the seven women’s teams to take to the field at the Yodoko Sakura Stadium on Saturday, when they take on Kazakhstan in match nine.

Kazakhstan will have already played a game by then, having been given the honour of kicking off the tournament against Thailand.

The men’s tournament begins with a match between two big, physical sides in China and Korea, while Japan and India come up against each other in the following fixture.

As things stand, 10 teams have so far confirmed their participation at each event at the Olympic Games in Paris.

In the men’s event, hosts France, New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia (through the World Rugby Sevens Series 2023) have booked their place along with five regional winners in Uruguay (South America), Ireland (Europe), USA (North America), Kenya (Africa) and Samoa (Oceania).

New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and USA (qualifiers through the World Series) and hosts France, meanwhile, have been joined by Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa and, most recently, Fiji in the women’s tournament.

A total of 24 teams, comprising 288 athletes, will compete in the highly anticipated Rugby Sevens event at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games from 24 to 30 July.

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