11 sides retain unchanged squads going into the Tokyo sevens this weekend, a move, which confirms that rugby unions are taking the abbreviated game more seriously with the mantra that continuity leads to success. This should not only benefit the squads, as they continue to develop relationships with their team mates, but in doing so provide a better quality of rugby for the fans. This importance of providing a spectacle for the fans was echoed by IRB chairman, Bernard Lapassett who declared that “it is important that the people of Japan are exposed to top quality rugby, as we prepare to bring the games pinnacle tournament here in 2019”. Lapasset was referring to the Rugby World cup that is being staged in Japan in 2019.
The changes that have occurred are primarily forced ones due to injuries. England see two new players coming into the set up in the form of young former Wellington College winger Sam Edgerley and Chris Brightwell whilst Chris Cracknell is out injured and Isoa Damu is away on military duty. Notable loses for the England team with Damu being key in their success in Dubai and Cracknell providing that much needed go forward physicality.
South Africa have also suffered key loses as sevens star Cecil Afrika is out as well as Paul Delport, both influential playmakers in springboks squad Their replacements are Dirk Dippernaar and Renfred Dazel. Wales also see a change with Rhys Shelford dropping out of the squad to be replaced by Tom Habberfield.
Despite the loss of sevens stars Afrika and Damu, the tournament still has a mouth watering line up as Fiji look to set up back to back wins and replace New Zealand as no.1 on the world leader board. However, Gordon Ttiejans side will be looking to build on a strong outing in Hong Kong as they fight on without 4 key squad players. England will also be looking to improve on their recent form and convert those near misses into wins in order to get them back into the title race. All of which will make for an entertaining weekend in Japan and provide a fascinating spectacle for the viewing population.
Asia is one of the biggest developing regions for rugby with a huge increase in participation levels of 18% since RWC 2007. On top of that, the inclusion of sevens into the Olympic games in 2016 has lead to a huge increase in funding by Asia countries, China being one of the leading investors in their squad. This weekends Tokyo tournament is just another stepping stone in the booming rugby culture in Asia, and this has been reflected by no fewer than 13 companies demonstrating an interest in becoming commercial partners on top of 4 of the biggest Japanese businesses, all looking to advertise to the 35 000 fans expected over the weekend and the millions who will watch it on TV.