With rugby sevens making its debut as an official Olympic sport in Rio de Janiero in 2016, Japan's newly formed women's national team is off and running for their quest to qualify for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.
Nicknamed “Rugirl-7,” the national team placed second in the Asia Pacific Women's Sevens Championship that ended Sept. 2, after a first-round victory over 2009 World Cup champion Australia.
Rugirl-7 is made up of about 30 core players who were tested and selected from a pool of candidates last year.
The team has been training hard ever since. Training camp starts at 5:30 a.m., and involves a lot of running and muscle training to build the team's spirit of “training and running to victory.”
Head coach Keiko Asami attributes the team’s recent successes to the “improved balance” of techniques and skills as players of various athletic backgrounds motivate and compete with one another.
Some members of the team have a history of playing rugby, while others switched from different sports after being selected at tryouts hosted by the Japan Rugby Football Union.
Yuka Katashima, an accomplished shot-putter before she switched to rugby, has the strength to knock down foreign rivals. Initially, she had trouble keeping up with the team’s movements, and was awkward in catching passes. But Katashima has improved her play and has become an essential member of the offense.
Akari Fujisaki is another player who switched to rugby from another sport and has become an important member of Rugirl-7. A former volleyball player, Fujisaki uses her signature strength in jumps to contribute to set plays.
Determined to not lose their positions to highly athletic members who switched from other sports, experienced rugby players on the team have ramped up their strength training.
All this athletics diversity is good for Rugirl-7, whose next goal is the World Cup, which will be held in Moscow in June 2013. The results of that tournament will help determine which teams will qualify for Rio 2016. The Asian qualifying matches for the World Cup get under way next month.
“They (Australia and Kazakhstan) are not at their full potential yet, but beating them gave us confidence,” coach Asami said of the Asia Pacific Women's Sevens Championship.
At a training camp being held in Australia until Sept. 17, Rugirl-7 will be beefing up its defense ahead of the Asian qualifiers by conducting tackling practice on the beach and other training methods.
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