Kazakhstan hope to maintain their proud Asia Rugby Women’s Championship record when they take on Japan in the 2023 final in Almaty on Sunday.
No team has won more than Kazakhstan’s five Women’s Championship titles, although Japan would draw level with them should they emerge victorious at the Almaty Sports Training Complex.
The hosts warmed up for Tuesday’s opening round – their first test on home soil in eight years – with a series of camps in the south of the country, while they also trained alongside the country’s men’s national team.
Those sessions paid dividends against Hong Kong China, as Kazakhstan ran in five tries to win an enthralling match 27-23 in Almaty.
Victory sealed their passage to Sunday’s showpiece match, and also booked their place in WXV this October, but the job isn’t done yet. The hosts want to finish the tournament with a sixth Women’s Championship crown and first since 2014.
“We are hosting the Asian Championship at home. This is already a big step,” Kazakhstan coach Anna Yakovleva said.
“The federation of Kazakhstan has created all conditions for good preparation, and we can’t let down everyone who believes in us.
“This is the 12th [Women’s] Championship held in Asia, and we have won the championship five times. We would like to continue the tradition of winning in Asia!
“Yes, we have a very young team now, but we will try to do our best for a good performance.”
Centre Lyudmila Sherer added: “The Asian Championship tournament is very important for us. We want to keep our place at the top of the Asian continent!”
Sherer is one of the most experienced players in the Kazakh squad, having made her test debut in November 2009, scoring four tries in a 58-14 win against Hong Kong China.
She praised the work done in the pre-tournament training camps, suggesting “it was important to train together, [to gain] the confidence that we will play to the end and leave everything on the field”.
The centre also claimed that playing at home gives the team “more confidence” and she cannot wait to test herself against some of the best teams in the world in WXV in October.
Whoever wins Sunday’s final will qualify for WXV 2, which will take place in Cape Town, while the loser will compete in WXV 3.
“For our team, every tournament is very important,” Sherer said. “Moreover, we want to play in the new WXV tournament and showcase our skills and please our fans.”
Yakovleva added: “This new rugby tournament is very interesting for us, and we would like to test our strength to play at a new level with other teams from other continents.
“This is a big step for women's 15s rugby.”
Sunday’s meeting between the teams will be their first since 2015, when Japan secured a 27-12 victory in Fukuoka.
That win was the Sakura 15s’ first against Kazakhstan in eight attempts and helped secure their second Asia Rugby Women’s Championship title.
Japan went on to retain their crown in 2016 and 2017, meaning they have won the previous three championships in which they have competed.