Great Britain won their opening two matches of the Olympic rugby sevens, but they were given a good run for their money by Japan, who had earlier conquered number three seeds New Zealand.
New Zealand had led 12-7 with just two minutes to play, but a quick tapped penalty was passed out to Kameli Soejima in space, and he ran round the outside to score, but not leaving the easiest of conversions. Katsuyuki Sakai, however, kept his cool and added the extras to put the Brave Blossoms 14-12 ahead with one minute to go. The All Blacks remained patient however, and got to within five metres of the try-line, but they ran out of space out wide and lost the ball in touch. Japan celebrated as if they had won the gold medal, but it was a remarkable feat for a side ranked 12 places lower than the Kiwis.
Japan did not stop there though, and almost backed that win up with another over Great Britain. Team GB were ahead 14-0 after just three minutes, courtesy of two tries from James Rodwell, but Japan fought back to half the deficit before half-time – with Lomano Lemeki going over from dummy half. Sakai then squared things up with less than three minutes to play after a quick tap-and-go, and we were on for a grandstand finish in the Deodoro Stadium.
In the final minute, Marcus Watson, -brother of England winger Anthony – produced a magical sidestep to create half a yard on his defender and then unleashed his pace to put England 21-14 ahead, but things still weren’t over. Two minutes into overtime, Japan flung the ball wide, and two offloads into the tackle allowed Lemeki to get the try, but crucially Sam Cross forced him wide, providing a tricky conversion. Sakai couldn’t repeat his earlier heroics against New Zealand to salvage the draw, as Great Britain scraped home 21-19.
Earlier Great Britain had swatted off the pacey and powerful threat of Kenya with a comfortable 31-7 victory. Also in Pool C, New Zealand’s 28-5 win over the Kenyans did come with some bad news as two time World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his Olympics after just two matches.
Elsewhere, number one seeds Fiji made light work of hosts Brazil in their 40-12 victory, but they didn’t find the going as easy against Argentina, with two late Kitione Taliga tries needed to pick up the win 21-14. In Pool B, South Africa didn’t concede a point in their opening two matches, defeating Spain 24-0 and France 26-0. But the French did manage to pick up a big win over Australia 31-14, which should see them take the second automatic quarter-final spot in the group.
New Zealand versus Great Britain is the pick of the action on Wednesday, as the final group stage matches are completed, before getting on to the quarter-finals out in Rio.