China pull out of Asian Sevens
John Verghese, Gulf Times
April 27, 2007

Japan and Kazakhstan are set to be involved in an enthralling battle for the top honours following the withdrawal of defending champions China from the Asian Women's Rugby Sevens Championship which begins at the Doha Rugby Football Centre today.

Due to the last-minute pull out of the Chinese team due to unforeseen circumstances, Japan appear to be one of the favourites in the eight-team competition to halt the fine streak enjoyed by Kazakhstan, who won the title three times in a row before losing out last year in the final to China in Tashkent.

Japanese manager Noriko Kishida revealed that the team would all out for the trophy. "We would like to capitalise on the absence of China and give Kazakhstan a stern challenge. I would say it is one of the best opportunities to improve on our past performances and win the Cup," she said.

The Japanese team which is a blend of youth and experience is aiming to give sufficient exposure to their younger players in the two-day tournament and also to improve on their previous edition's performance where they finished Shield champions. Captain Ryoko Tsuboi, vice-captain Tsukasa Tsujimoto and emerging talents Marie Yamaguchi and Rinako Yokoyama are expected to play a major role for the team.

Meanwhile, despite disrupted preparations due to the non-availability of a number of players the management of the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) team led by captain Jennifer Thompson, is hoping that they would play with a greater level of passion than in the previous years. Under coach Wayne Marsters of New Zealand, the team surprised many by winning the Plate in the International Women's competition at the 2006 Dubai Sevens and also staged good performances at the LG Tournament in Tunisia (March 2007) and in the Hong Kong Sevens recently.

The team which comprises players drawn from Kuwait, Qatar and UAE will endeavour to safeguard the good reputation they have earned in recent times. Four girls from Doha, Chantell Grove, Grainne Burness, Anne Firth and Judith Schofield feature in the 12-man squad.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan team which has a best display of having finished Bowl winners at the Singapore Sevens in 2005, are also seeking to build on their past record. Under coach Hisham Abdeen, the team comprising players from the two leading clubs, Slimline Sports Club and the Army Sports Club have been training for the last three weeks in Colombo and thus have enough motivation going into the competition.

"We are going to take it match by match and will adopt an attack oriented display," said coach Abdeen.

"We are not going to underestimate any of the teams and we hope to have the support of the large number of Lankan expatriates in Qatar," he added.

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