Japan’s Takamasa Maruo is seen on the stadium monitor scoring a try against Australia during the HSBC L.A. Sevens, Feb. 25 in Carson. (MASASHI NAGADOI)


Only six months after Los Angeles hosted the final performance of the 2022 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, international sevens returned to Southern California for the “Monsoon” 7s Feb. 25-26 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.

The weather proved to be a major challenge during first day of competition with heavy rain and hail making the pitch an icy water slide for the 16 national teams. Only nearby lightning strikes stopped play, delaying the round robin pool matches in the afternoon. 

Pool play didn’t finish until after 9 p.m., when Ireland upset South Africa, 14-5 and clinched first place in Pool B.   

Nippon was making its second consecutive appearance in Los Angeles, the sixth stop of an 11-city tour in the HSBC Sevens 2023 Series. This year the HSBC Series holds greater importance as the top four teams in the competition receive automatic bids to the 2024 Olympics.

Nippon had been a longshot to reach the medal round of the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. However, they beat the dominant New Zealand All Blacks in pool play and a talented French team in the quarterfinals, before losing to eventual champions Fiji in the semifinals.

Looking to reclaim the magic from the Olympics, Nippon had a very difficult draw in Pool C, with Fiji, Australia, and Kenya.

Day 1

Nippon vs. Fiji: Similar to previous sevens tournaments in Los Angeles, Fiji had home field advantage with close to half the fans in the stadium waving the Fijian colors.

The match started well for Japan as they gained possession deep inside Fiji territory, but a turnover, a juke, and a 70-meter sprint for a try by Fijian Iowane Teba, and the game quickly got out of hand for Nippon, trailing 26-0 at half. 

Nippon looked to score early in the second half, but with an unlucky knock-on by the Cherry Blossom squad, the Fijian wave continued. Teba scored four tries in the match, helping shut out Nippon 50-0. Like last year’s Sevens in L.A., turnovers continue to be an issue for Nippon.

Nippon’s second match was against 2022 HSBC Series champion Australia. Nippon played a better match, and was only down to the Wallaroos 19-5 at half time. The Cherry Blossoms made it a match with a try early in the second half, closing the deficit to 19-10. 

But Australia’s defense took over, preventing Nippon from scoring twice inside the 10-meter line, and countered with a try at the end of the match, defeating Nippon 24-10 .

Takamasa Maruo and Kameli Raravou Latianara Soejima scored Nippon’s two tries.

The final match on Day One for Nippon was against a very strong Kenyan team who earlier in the day upset Australia 12-7, and gave Fiji a tough second match. Kenya took a 5-0 lead into half. Nippon drew a yellow card and played down a man for two minutes in the second half, but was able to withstand Kenya’s numerous attacks.

Koki Yakushji scored an impressive try with five minutes remaining in the match and teammate Yoshihiro Noguchi kicked the crucial conversion, leading Nippon to edge out Kenya 7-5.

Fiji went undefeated in Pool C, and Australia finished a distant second, with one win and two losses, but still made it through to the Cup quarter-finals because its point differential was better than Kenya and Nippon.

In addition to Fiji’s success, Samoa, Ireland, and Great Britain also ended the day with a perfect record. Uruguay caused a big shock on the first day by defeating South Africa in Pool B, but failed to qualify to the Cup round because of losses to Canada and Ireland.

Joining the top four nations in the Cup Quarter Finals were Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The highlight match of Day One was Samoa beating New Zealand 14-7 to clinch first place in Pool A — best match of the first day.

Day 2

Nippon’s first match of the second day was for ninth place, and the Cherry Blossoms jumped out to a 7-0 lead against Uruguay, thanks to the fine play Taisei Hayashi. Los Teros found their form at the end of the first half, scoring two tries in the last 90 seconds, to take a 14-7 lead.

Nippon had its chances in the second half, but again their turnovers cost them and Uruguay scored the only try in the second half, defeating Nippon 19 to 7.

The second match for Nippon was against Chile. The game was a nail-biter that went into extra time with Nippon beating Chile 24-19.

Nippon’s Junya Matsumoto was the main force of the match, scoring the game-tying try at the end of regulation and scoring the winning try two minutes after the time had expired. According to the rugby rule, if time expires and the ball is not dead, the referee allows play to continue until the ball becomes dead.

For 13th place final Nippon played a lackluster U.S. squad. Unfortunately, Nippon  made too many costly mistakes and the Eagles built on their 17-7 half time lead and won convincingly 31-7. Five different Americans scored, including the great Perry Baker. Nippon finished in 14th place, the same position as they did at last year’s HSBC Los Angeles Sevens.

The quarterfinals of the Cup saw Argentina end Samoa’s undefeated record, winning 19-12.

In the second quarter final Fiji easily handled South Africa, winning 28-7. The third match had undefeated Great Britain losing to the All Blacks 24-12, and the final quarter final saw Australia taking care of business with easy win of 31-7 over Ireland.

The semifinals saw Argentina sneak by the home team Fiji 20-17; and in the second semis New Zealand handed their southern hemisphere rival, Australia, with a 33-17 defeat.

The finals saw NZ jump up to a quick half time lead of 17-0 thanks to magnificent running by Leroy Carter, who scored two breakaway tries. Los Pumas made some needed adjustments at half and came out running scoring two tries and cutting the deficit to five points, 12-17.

The All Blacks made two key substitutions, including Brady Rush, who put the game out of reach with a nice break and score at the end of the match, with the final score New Zealand 22 and Argentina 12. This is New Zealand’s second consecutive Series win, putting them high above the standings with a total of 107 points.

Tied for second are Argentina and South Africa, both at 86 points. and rounding out the top five are Fiji at 84 points and Samoa at 81. Nippon is in 16th place with a total of 10 points.

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