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25th March 2014

English sevens stars boost top seeds Penguins, Samurai at GFI HKFC Tens

Christian Lewis-Pratt believes that he and England Sevens teammates Mark Odejobi and Callum Wilson can follow in the footsteps of their former teammates and help title holders Penguins win the GFI HKFC Tens, which kicks off at Hong Kong Football Club on Wednesday.

Second seeds Samurai, who lost to Penguins in last year’s final, have England Sevens duo Chris Cracknell and winger Mat Turner in their line-up along with Ben Gollings, the all-time top scorer on the HSBC Sevens World Series and a four-time Hong Kong Sevens winner.

Tana Umaga, head coach of the BGC Dragons for a third straight year, confirmed that Australia legend George Smith, who won his 111th cap for Australia last July, will play for the 2012 champions, who are seeded third.

Umaga – who’s also overseeing the seventh-seeded Carinat Dragons – listed giant Wallaby flanker Radike Samo, ‘Samoan Bulldozer’ Alesana Tuilagi, Fiji legend Rupeni Caucau, Tonga captain Nili Latu and Fiji Sevens duo Jasa Veremalua and Leo Naikasau in his first-team squad.

Tonga flanker Hale T Pole, who played in the 2007 World Cup, and George Stowers, who played at the 2011 World Cup after a decade representing Samoa, are two of the experienced heads selected in the Carinat Dragons line-up.

Lewis-Pratt, the fifth-highest points scorer on last season’s HSBC Sevens World Series, thinks the inclusion of sevens specialists alongside experienced 15s players could again prove a winning formula for Penguins, after England duo Chris Brightwell and James Lightfoot-Brown played key roles in the team’s win last year.

“Chris and James said it was a really good experience and a really high quality of rugby. They were shocked by how good the standard was,” said the 23-year-old flyhalf, who is joined by fellow back Wilson, a powerful wing, and Odejobi, a former winger converted to a forward.

“Hopefully as a group, the three of us can bring something to the team. Obviously we have experience of playing at a fast, high-tempo level, and hopefully fitness wise and our game experience will help. We’ve got a lot of class 15s players in the mix, so hopefully we can help them.

“The two boys with me are pretty physical and they don’t often get to be as physical as they want to be in a game of sevens, because it’s so wide and with such open spaces, so I think they’re looking forward to a slightly more compact side of the game.

“We’re under instructions that we’ve got to go out and do well for the Penguins and I think we’ve got a good chance as long as we tighten up and get set for game time.”

Despite his age, Lewis-Pratt has already taken on a leadership role among the backs and has pinpointed Fijian scrumhalf Varasiko Duisokosoko, who plays in New Zealand, as a player to watch.

“Vara is a player to look out for,” the Englishman said. “Everything he’s done so far in training has impressed me and I’m sure he’ll be turning heads at the tournament. He’s really sharp and I think he’ll be making a couple of linebreaks.”

Lewis-Pratt said two-time finalists Samurai and the star-studded Dragons will be among Penguins’ main challengers for the Cup, along with the likes of fourth seeds Borneo Eagles.

“Samurai are one of the other teams to look out for. I’ve got a couple of my mates there and they’ve got a strong set-up,” Lewis-Pratt said.

“Also, the Borneo Eagles team, they’ve got guys with Kiwi Sevens experience among their ranks, and obviously there’s a team full of all-stars to be wary of, so it’s going to be a good competition.”

Samurai_Ben-Gollings-Chris-Cracknell_Mat-Turner

Turner, the top try scorer on the 2011/12 HSBC Sevens World Series, will provide pace on the outside for Samurai, while his England Sevens teammate Cracknell is part of a powerful pack that includes Northampton Saints trio Teimana Harrison and Rob Verbakel – both Kiwis – and young prop Danny Herriot.

Turner, 26, hopes that he’ll be able to rediscover the form that made him one of top players on the Sevens World Series and is looking forward to teaming up with his compatriots in the UK-based invitational team.

“It’s always good to have a few guys in the team that you’ve played with before. You’ve played with them so much that you know exactly what they’re going to do when, so hopefully we can show that on the field,” said the South Africa-born Turner.

“From what I’ve seen in training, 10s rugby is a lot faster than 15s and not quite sevens, but you still have the same amount of opportunities for one on ones. Obviously you make more tackles, but it’s still quite a free-flowing game.

“I’ve heard it’s a good tournament of a high level and you can see some of the names on the other teamsheets, so it’s going to be fun playing against some guys I’ve watched on TV.”

Borneo Eagles, semi-finalists in 2011 and Plate champions in their last appearance two years ago, have one of the tournament’s youngest squads.

Flyhalf Rocky Khan, who played for New Zealand Sevens last year, returns for Francis Stowers’ team, which is dominated by Kiwis and other New Zealand-based talent, and also includes two Fijians based at the Eagles Rugby Club in Sandakan, Malaysia.

Tradition YCAC, semi-finalists on their debut last year, are fifth seeds and return with a strong squad that will be orchestrated by playmaker Kane Hancy, who has been named Player of the Tournament three times after inspiring New Zealand Metro to victory in 2007, 2008 and Tradition Valley’s success in 2011.

First-timers JML IRANZ are the tournament’s black-kitted dark horses and make their tournament debut after easily winning the Manila Tens for the second straight year.

Chris Harker, Chairman of the HKFC Tens Organising Committee, believes all of the leading contenders have a good chance of winning the 29th edition of the annual tournament.

“This year’s GFI HKFC Tens is really strong and building on the increasing number of top sides in previous years. George Smith’s inclusion in the BGC Dragons has strengthened what was already a strong squad, especially with the likes of Alesana Tuilagi and Radike Samo,” Harker said.

“Penguins and Samurai are frequent finalists and both have chosen to include England Sevens players to boost their squad, while Borneo Eagles and Tradition YCAC are both keen to go beyond the semi-finals for the first time.

“We’ve got an exciting line-up of rugby and a great Official Charity in Po Leung Kuk, so we’re again expecting packed stands on both Wednesday and Thursday.”

The GFI HKFC Tens offers free entry on Wednesday (11.00am-9.00pm), while Po Leung Kuk, the tournament’s Official Charity, will receive all proceeds from HK$100 entrance fee on Thursday (10.40am-8.30pm) and on-site donations.

Now Sports, Hong Kong’s leading pay-TV broadcaster, will air live coverage of the action on both days and a post-tournament highlights show.

GFI Group, a leading provider of brokerage services and trading support products, has title sponsored the event since 2006. Other sponsors this year include UBS (Gold Sponsors), Swire Properties, Mourant Ozannes, RR Donnelly and Allied World Assurance Company (Silver Sponsors), Markel International, Eurofins and East Hotel (Bronze Sponsors), Carlsberg (Official Beer) and Tsunami Sport (Official Apparel).

Since GFI came on board as title sponsor, the tournament has attracted rugby legends Joe Roff and Toutai Kefu (both 2006), Jonah Lomu (2007), Brian Lima (2008), Bobby Skinstad (2009), Waisale Serevi (2010), George Gregan and Christian Cullen (2011), Mils Muliaina (2012) and Justin Marshall (2011 and 2012), the winning captain in 2012.

Now in its 29th year, the GFI HKFC Tens is sanctioned by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) and is held on the Wednesday and Thursday before the world-famous Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens. Hong Kong Football Club has hosted the annual event since it was first staged in 1986 to celebrate the club’s 100th anniversary.

2014 GFI HKFC Tens – Pools and seeding

Pool A: Penguins (1), East Hotel HK Scottish Exiles (8), Irish Vikings (12), Hong Kong Dragons (16)

Pool B: Samurai (2), Carinat Dragons (7), Gavekal Mongrels (11), A-Trade Overseas Old Boys (15)

Pool C: BGC Dragons (3), JML IRANZ (6), Lloyd McDermott Warriors (10), Newedge Club (14)

Pool D: Borneo Eagles (4), Tradition YCAC (5), Tag Heuer Eyewear Pyrenees (9), Devil’s Own Wanderers (13)

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