A stellar year of international rugby sevens is just about to get even better as the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, follows on from the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens in providing a high-profile and incredibly competitive showcase for the Olympic sport.
Defending champions Japan’s men and China’s women will be looking to win gold again as the competitions get underway on Thursday. Twelve men’s and eight women’s teams will take part in the tournament set to be hosted at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium from 30 August to 1 September.
Rugby sevens has been part of the Asian Games since 1998 and in the men’s competition Japan have been dominant, winning the last three gold medals on offer, in Incheon in 2014 when they scored 289 unanswered points on their way to the final against Hong Kong, Guangzhou in 2010 and Doha in 2006. Korea won gold in the 1998 and 2002 Games.
Japan go into the 2018 edition on a 17-match winning run at this level and find themselves in Pool B with Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and hosts Indonesia.
According to Japan men’s coach Kensuke Iwabuchi, the three days of competition will act as an early dress rehearsal for the Olympic Games on home soil in Tokyo in 2020. “In the Asian Games we play two matches a day for three days, which is the same format as the Olympics. Also, in the heat, this will be a good simulation for us ahead of the Olympics. We would like to become the champions of Asia and move on to the Olympics to play Tokyo 2020 as the Asian champions,” said Iwabuchi.
Sri Lanka have named an identical squad to the one from the Commonwealth Games and, along with two-time winners Korea – the only team to win a medal in each of the six Asian Games’ tournaments held to date, they will compete in Pool C alongside the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
“We are very excited to be involved in a tournament like this and can’t wait to start playing,” said Sri Lanka captain Surdarshana Muthuthanthri. “This is a great experience for the boys and it is a privilege to represent our country in the Games where we are part of a few select sports and teams that get the opportunity to be here.”
For Pakistan, who finished 11th on their Asian Games debut in 2014, the opportunity to increase awareness of the sport back home is just as important as results. Having been drawn in a tough-looking Pool A alongside Hong Kong, runners-up in 2010 and 2014, China and Thailand, Pakistan captain Kashif Khawaja said: “With the whole world watching the Asian Games, I think it will be encouraging for every Asian country to take on this amazing sport and especially for us to showcase to our country what is possible.”
China are the defending champions in the women’s event having swept all before them in 2014, winning all six matches and scoring 202 points and conceding only 31.
Japan ran China mighty close in the final, though, and would have won had Yoko Suzuki’s try right at the death not been ruled out for a forward pass to allow China to hold on for a 14-12 victory.
Four years on from their gold medal triumph, China – who will replace Japan as a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in 2019 – find themselves paired with Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea in Pool A.
Kazakhstan, bronze medallists in 2014, Thailand and Indonesia accompany Japan in Pool B.
This is the third time women’s sevens will be played at the Asian Games after being introduced in Guangzhou in 2010 when Kazakhstan won gold.
Olympic inclusion has had a profound effect on rugby sevens and been a game-changer for rugby as a whole. Following the sport’s successful introduction at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games it is estimated that the rugby sevens fan-base grew by more than 30 million as a result, with sevens instrumental in lowering the average age of World Rugby’s fan-base from above 35 to below 24 while expanding international reach, with emerging markets such as the USA, China, India and Brazil showing substantial growth.
Asia is at the heart of rugby’s global growth success story and with Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan representing the first-time rugby’s showpiece event is being hosted in the world’s most youthful and populous continent the opportunity for further growth is unprecedented. Recent Nielsen research has found there to be 112.5 million rugby fans in Asia with China (33 million), India (25 million) and Japan (14 million) all ranking in the top ten nations worldwide.
As part of World Rugby and Asia Rugby’s commitment to grow the capability and capacity of Indonesia Rugby, a series of training and education workshops were held in Jakarta this week. This included a Get Into Rugby course that trained staff from many provinces in Get Into Rugby, safeguarding and X Rugby alongside specific strength and conditioning, match officiating, first aid and pitchside immediate care workshops.
Indonesia is hosting the 18th edition of the Asian Games, orgainsed by the Olympic Council of Asia. You can find more information and updates from the Asian Games here.
Courtesy of World Rugby