Relief as Britain edge past shock troops Japan in Rio sevens
Great Britain survived an almighty scare against shock troops Japan to remain on course for the quarter-finals as the men's Olympic sevens competition got off to an incredible start.
The Japanese caused one of the biggest upsets of the Games so far when they humbled New Zealand 14-12 in a remarkable Pool C opener which also saw All Black superstar Sonny Bill Williams’ Olympic dream end in injury.
GB had already despatched Kenya 31-7 when the pool was blown wide open by a result that rivalled the Brave Blossoms’ incredible win over South Africa in the 15-a-side World Cup last autumn.
The Japanese then came within a whisker of drawing with Team GB, which would have left the Brits’ last-eight qualification in doubt, but missed a late conversion. That saw GB escape with a 21-19 win and top the pool going into today’s clash with the Kiwis, which takes place at 4.30pm.
Two-time World Cup winner Williams limped off with a ruptured Achilles as Japan caused arguably the greatest upset in rugby sevens history by claiming a stunning 14-12 win.
They took an early lead through a try from Teruya Goto that Lemeki converted, but that was the cue for an immediate response. Scott Curry and Akira Ioane collected touchdowns either side of half-time, but Japan would not buckle and they secured a famous victory through Kameli Soejima’s try which Katsuyuki Sakai converted.
GB were well warned going into their second pool match and made the perfect start when two tries from James Rodwell put them 14-0 up on Japan and seemingly in control. However, the inspired offloading Asians hit back through Lomano Lemeki before Scotland’s Mark Bennett had to pull off a brilliant last-ditch tackle to protect the GB lead.
Japan would not be denied, though, and Sakai levelled after a quick penalty.
Marcus Watson – brother of England Test star Anthony – looked to have got the job done for Britain but a botched restart by Tom Mitchell gave Japan another chance and Lemeki got over on the left at the death. But Sakai shanked the conversion to leave the Brits breathing a sigh of relief.
Bruised New Zealand responded in their second match to beat Kenya 28-5, but will now look to post a big win over GB today and seek to rescue their precarious position.
Bennett was an impressive performer earlier as Great Britain got their campaign under way with a fine 31-7 win over Kenya.
The GB seven, whose historic first starting line-up was made up of five Englishmen, Bennett and Wales’ James Davies, overwhelmed the African side to make a perfect start.
The British team dominated possession in the first half and tries by Dan Norton, Phil Burgess and Dan Bibby had them well ahead when Scotland and Glasgow centre Bennett notched his first score of the tournament with a great dummy and tackle break before running half the length of the pitch to help make it 24-0 at half-time.
Kenya came slightly back into it with a try early in the second period but GB finished strong. The other Scot in the 12-man squad, Mark Robertson, came on for the last couple of minutes and it was his incursion which led to Bibby’s second try on a hot afternoon at the Deodoro Stadium and a comfortable 31-7 win.
There was another early shock, though not quite on the scale of the Japan jaw-dropper, when France beat Australia 31-14 in the Pool B opener.
Elsewhere, Fiji brushed hosts Brazil aside 40-12 in Pool A.
The fancied United States team, who are technically reigning Olympic champions in the sport, also suffered a surprise early loss – 17-14 to Argentina.