Japan overcome Hong Kong China challenge on road to England 2025

The Sakura 15s began their Asia Rugby Women’s Championship defence with a bonus-point victory against Hong Kong China, but they were made to work hard for the win.

Japan took a step towards Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 and WXV 2 qualification with a hard-fought 29-12 victory against Hong Kong China at King’s Park Sports Ground on Wednesday.

The Sakura 15s went into the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship 2024 as favourites to lift a sixth title but were made to dig deep by a resolute performance from their hosts.

Japan led 12-0 at half-time thanks to tries from Mele Yua Havili Kagawa and captain Iroha Nagata but the result and try bonus-point were only confirmed in the final 10 minutes when Nijiho Nagata and Sakurako Hatada crossed the Hong Kong China line.

This was far from a routine win for the Sakura 15s and Hong Kong China will rue not having more than tries from Shanna Forrest and Chong Ka Yan to show for their endeavour.

It means that Japan will book their tickets to England 2025 and WXV 2 2024 in South Africa if they beat Kazakhstan in their second and final match of the tournament on Monday.

Speaking afterwards Iroha Nagata admitted Japan had experienced “some tough times” over the previous 80 minutes.

“It was good we executed the win,” she said. “We have four days to fix it and we’re going to move onto the next game.”

Ahead of kick off, the two sides had not contested a test since Japan won the 11th-place play-off at Women’s RWC 2017 while Hong Kong China’s sole victory in the fixture came a decade ago.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the seven places between the sides in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings, it was Japan who started the match on the front foot.

It took the Sakura 15s less than eight minutes to register the match’s first try as Kagawa evaded a couple of tackles on her way to the try line before slamming the ball down.

Although not awarded initially, the try was given following a TMO review that ruled there was no separation between the winger’s hand and the ball as it touched the line.

Hong Kong China were having to put in a big defensive shift, and their resolve was broken for a second time in the 26th minute when an intelligent lineout move involving hooker Kotomi Taniguchi created the space for Iroha Nagata to score.

It looked as though Japan would further extend their lead on the stroke of half-time, however, the hosts did brilliantly to repel multiple phases of pressure.

First, Chloe Baltazar held up the ball as Japan drove over the Hong Kong China line and then, after Natasha Olson-Thorne had been sent to the sin-bin, the hosts secured a vital turnover.

Hong Kong China maintained that level of energy at the beginning of the second half to keep their visitors scoreless for the entirety of Olson-Thorne’s time off the field.

And as the match began to be played increasingly in the Japanese half, the home side missed two opportunities to narrow their deficit as Zoe Smith and Gabriella Rivers saw efforts at goal fall short.

The state of the match was summed up in the 66th minute as Japan went for the posts with an attacking penalty, Ayasa Otsuka subsequently stretching their lead to 15 points.

It proved a wise decision moments later when Forrest burrowed over from close range to give Hong Kong China reward for their efforts. Smith added the extras.

Forrest’s try brought the hosts within range of a losing bonus point but their hopes of getting anything out of the match were dented by two Japanese tries in six minutes.

First, Nijiho Nagata powered over from the base of a ruck before Hatada scored the try of the match following a slaloming run.

There was still time for Hong Kong China to give the home fans something more to cheer though as Chong Ka Yan went over from close range.

Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 is coming to England. Register now to be the first to hear about tickets.

(Photo credit: HKCR/AR- Ike Images)

Last updated: May 22, 2024, 1:29:27 PM
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