Rugby: Japanese teenager shines in Sevens series debut

Rugby: Japanese teenager shines in Sevens series debut

Seventeen-year-old Rinka Matsuda made her Japan debut in the prestigious World Rugby Women's Sevens Series on Saturday, and found out she may have what it takes to compete among the world's best. Matsuda, a third-year high school student, started all three of the Sakura Sevens' matches at the Kitakyushu Sevens and scored a brace in a close 28-21 contest against Russia. Her first try in the 8th minute put Japan ahead for the first time in the tournament before the Russians sealed victory with a last-minute try by Elena Zdrokova. "It's frustrating we couldn't win. But I found some of my skills worked at this level, while some didn't," she said. "I'm glad I was able to make use of my strengths, which are the steps and runs." Daughter of former Japan international Tsutomu Matsuda, the teenager played in the series qualifier in Hong Kong earlier this month, when Japan missed out on claiming core team status for the 2020 season. She said she received advice from her father ahead of this tournament in a bid to contribute to Japan's victory at the meet on home soil, where the squad finished bottom last year. "He told me different things, to play more offensively and how to play against stronger foreign players and so on," she said. "I had more opportunities to carry the ball as the matches went on." Having lost all their pool games, Japan will head into Sunday's Challenge Trophy consolation round, to determine the ninth through 12th places. Japan coach Hitoshi Inada and captain Chiharu Nakamura both said they were impressed by the youngster's performance. "She played very well and aggressively in her first World Series appearance. I think she put her strong points on display," Inada said. Nakamura, who played at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, said, "I've noticed her improve a lot by watching her score a try in her World Series debut. She showed good speed too." Japan have already secured a spot in next year's Tokyo Olympics as the host nation. While they finished without a medal at the 2016 Games, they are aiming for a podium finish next year. "We don't have much opportunity to play at home. Maybe the next time we play here will be at the Tokyo Olympics," Matsuda said. "I hope we can claim a win in front of the home fans."

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