Sakura 7s ready to bloom at home amid Olympic battles

The Japan women’s national rugby sevens team, the Sakura Sevens, will figure for the first time at the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series this season being included as an invitational side in the 12-team competition at the Kitakyushu Sevens on April 20-21.

As the race to secure a ticket for 2020 Tokyo Olympics heats up – Japan as hosts qualify automatically for both the men’s and women’s competitions – all eyes will be on the Sakura Sevens who are bidding to become a core team at the World Series next season.

“The Sakura Sevens will take part as an invitational team this time, however, they are aiming to be promoted and be a core team next year,” said Japan Rugby Football Union President Tadashi Okamura.

“The HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series will be held in Kitakyushu again this year, for the third consecutive year. I am very pleased not only this world-class tournament will be held in Japan but also as it will give all teams to experience Japanese culture during the tournament,” Okamura added.

Presently the only Asian team among the 11 core teams is China who prop up the standings led by the dominant New Zealand women. The Black Ferns have won all three previous legs and are a shoo-in to secure an Olympic berth. The top four teams at the end of the 2019 World Series will qualify for Tokyo.

Hosts Japan are drawn with defending Kitakyushu champions New Zealand in the preliminary round at the fourth leg of the Women’s Series. France and Russia are the other two teams in Pool A.

Pool B comprises Australia, Canada, Spain and China. Pool C is made up of USA, currently second in the series standings, Ireland, England and Fiji.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “With Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, we are delighted to be back in Japan, showcasing the world’s top sevens teams and players at the HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens.

“As we pass the halfway mark of the women’s sevens series there is much on the line for teams as the compete for crucial series points and Olympic qualification.”

New Zealand lead the standings with a maximum 60 points following Cup wins in Glendale, Dubai and Sydney. USA is second on 48 followed by Canada and Australia, both on 46. France is fifth on 32 points and Ireland sixth on 30.

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