Japan beaten in emotional opener

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The Independent Online

Japan lost their opening match at the Hong Kong Sevens yesterday to the United States but the players were feted like winners and their coach said he hoped they could help inspire their country's recovery from the earthquake and tsunami.

Japan, long shots for the title, entered Hong Kong Stadium wearing black armbands in memory of the more than 10,000 killed in this month's disasters and were greeted by thunderous applause from the crowd. The coaching staff carried a national flag on which was written "Pray for Japan".

But the empathy of the 40,000 spectators could not quite carry Japan to victory. Twice they rallied in the first half to go in at half-time level at 12-12, and fought valiantly in the second half, but even with a last-minute converted try Japan lost 24-19.

England outclassed China 59-5, with Ben Gollings adding to his all-time leading sevens points record with a try and seven conversions.

New Zealand have also made an emotionally charged trip to Hong Kong, following the Christchurch earthquake last month that claimed 182 lives.

The Kiwis produced an impressive display against an overwhelmed South Korea, winning 61-0 and laying down a marker as they seek a 10th Hong Kong title. Buxton Popoalii scored 26 points from two tries and eight conversions.

"Not conceding a try was pleasing," the New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said. "In sevens rugby anything can happy so it's important to get out and get a lot of confidence.

"I firmly believe that you set the standard for the tournament by your first game. It looks good going into tomorrow."

There was a perfect start, too, for the defending champions Samoa, who breezed past tournament newcomers Mexico 64-0.