Japan stun NZ in Olympic sevens rugby
New Zealand suffered one of the biggest upsets in sevens rugby history when they were beaten 14-12 by Japan on the opening morning of the inaugural men’s Olympic tournament on Tuesday.
In echoes of the victory of their 15-man team over South Africa at the Rugby World Cup last year, the Japanese thoroughly deserved their first ever win over the All Blacks, the third seeds in Rio.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Japan back Lomano Lemeki. “You’ve got to think that a minnow team can come here and beat a team that’s supposed to be a gold medal contender. It’s still pretty unbelievable and I am just shocked to be honest.”
To make matters worse for New Zealand, Sonny Bill Williams, the highest profile player in the tournament, left the field with an ankle injury.
Williams, twice a World Cup winner in the 15-man game, suffered the injury to his left ankle while carrying the ball into a tackle two minutes into the second half and immediately indicated to the bench that he needed help.
Japan are ranked 10th out of the 12 teams taking part in Rio and forward Lote Tuqiri said a large part of their game plan had been about stopping Williams’s trademark offload.
“When we saw Sonny Bill come off – that was a boost to us,” he said. Teruya Goto and Kameli Soejima scored the tries for Japan and, crucially, Lemeki and Katsuyuki Sakai slotted the conversions.
That gave them the two-point lead they managed to hold on to for a famous victory, despite some desperate All Blacks attacks in the final couple of minutes.
New Zealand can still qualify for the quarter-finals from Pool C with two matches remaining but the defeat will be a major blow to their confidence as they look to become the first men’s rugby sevens Olympic champions.
Their veteran coach Gordon Tietjins walked off the pitch stoney-faced and he and the All Blacks players went straight past media into a meeting. (Reuters)
Photo caption: The All Blacks were stunned by Japan in Rio (Reuters)