Hangzhou, China, September 26, 2023: Cheered on by a partisan crowd, China won the gold medal in the women’s rugby sevens competition at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou on Tuesday.
Played in front of a sizeable crowd at the Hangzhou Normal University, whose alumni includes the city’s most famous son Jack Ma of Alibaba fame, the Chinese women turned the tables on Japan, who had defeated them in the gold medal final five years ago in Jakarta.
China dominated the first half to score 22 unanswered points. Japan fought back courageously in the second half, touching down three times to come within a point, but urged on by their fans, the home team defended bravely to deny their opponents and hang on for a 22-21 victory.
The win will be a shot in the arm for rugby in China, and especially Hangzhou, according to Lin Xiaohua, Head of the National Olympic Sports Centre in Beijing, which comes under the General Administration of Sport in China.
“This ground will be used to promote football and rugby in this university as well as two other campuses across Hangzhou. There are 30,000 students at this university and China winning the gold is a massive boost,” said Lin, who was in charge of the organisation of the rugby competitions at the Asian Games.
China surprised Japan with their physicality and willingness to take on their opponents up front. This tough approach earned them huge dividends with four first half tries from Zhou Yan, Wu Juan (2) and skipper Gu Yaoyao. The home team’s dominance was such that Japan didn’t step into China’s half in the first period.
But, as so often happens in rugby, it was a different story after the break as Japan, stung by their opponents’ physical approach, hit back strongly with three converted tries from captain Yume Hirano (2) and Chiaki Saegusa to come within a point of China, trailing 22-21. China had Wang Wanyu sent off with her team leading 22-7, but the home team held on for a famous victory.
The fight-back came too late as China kicked the ball into touch from a final scrum to give the home team their second gold medal at an Asian Games having previously won in 2014 Incheon.
In the bronze medal match, Hong Kong China claimed the honours beating Thailand 7-5. Hong Kong China scored first through Chong Ka Yan midway through the first half and then defended superbly. A try from Thanaporn Huankid brought Thailand within range, 7-5, but fierce tackling from Hong Kong China earned them the bronze medal.