SAPPORO – Honey Hireme led Waikato to victory in the Sapporo Sevens on Saturday, as the New Zealand side beat the Hokkaido Barbarians 31-7 at the Barbarians’ picturesque ground in Jozankei.
Kiwi legend Hireme — who is often dubbed “Honey Bill” in reference to her male counterpart Sonny Bill Williams — guided a young development squad past South Africa in a thrilling semifinal before the Mooloo women proved too strong for the Barbarians in a final played before a number of dignitaries from the central and Hokkaido governments and the Japan Rugby Football Union.
“I have been really impressed by the level of rugby,” said Hireme, who has represented New Zealand in rugby union, sevens and rugby league.
“The progression made in Japanese rugby in the last few years has been enormous. They give everything and never give up and that’s the best attitude to have.”
That progression was evident as Hokkaido — containing a mix of local players and foreigners over here on rugby exchange — beat Otemon Gakuin University Venus 26-5 to reach the final.
But in the end it was one game too many for the hosts as Cassandra Engler, Kendra Reynolds, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Hireme and Awa Whitiora scored tries, with Magali Harvey getting a consolation effort for the hosts.
“They were physically stronger than us and we just couldn’t react,” said Barbarians back Ayane Hirata. “But it was great to get to the final and hopefully we can inspire some more girls in Hokkaido to start playing.”
Hirata currently plays in Australia and said Japan needed more tournaments like this.
“In Brisbane we play competitions every weekend or so,” Hirata said. “In Japan there aren’t as many tournaments, especially international level.”
That international level was evident in the semifinals as Waikato beat Lady Blitzbokke, a game Hireme said was the biggest many of her younger teammates had ever played.
“I told them to give them respect as a national team but it ends there,” Hireme said. “I told them we had to let them know who we were so it was great to get the win.”
In the games for minor places, South Africa bounced back from its narrow loss to the eventual champions to beat Venus 33-5 for third place.
Queensland took fifth by beating Fukuoka Ladies 31-5, Arukas Queen Kumagaya placed seventh thanks to a 31-7 victory over Rugirl-7, Tokyo Phoenix topped Iwate Ladies Select 45-0 to take the bowl and Auckland beat Pearl 37-0 for the shield.