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5th April 2016

Nate Ebner: "The Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity"

Nate Ebner practises with Samurai at Hong Kong Football Club ahead of the 31st GFI HKFC 10s.

Samurai’s Super Bowl champion Nate Ebner and Penguins forward Antonio Kiri Kiri are GFI HKFC 10s rivals in Hong Kong this week, but both have the same goal of playing rugby sevens in the Rio Olympics

Nate Ebner is hoping to play his first competitive rugby match since college on Wednesday when Samurai begin their quest for a first GFI HKFC 10s title with Pool D matches against Kir Club Pyrenees, Scottish newcomers Projecx Waterboys and hosts Natixis HKFC.

Ebner, 27, took a leave of absence from the New England Patriots last month to join the USA Sevens training squad, as the 2015 Super Bowl champion bids to realise his dream of competing in this year’s Olympics. After leaving out Ebner from his squad for the Hong Kong Sevens, USA Sevens head coach Mike Friday recommended him to Samurai manager Terry Sands.

After years away from competitive rugby, the tough-tackling Ebner is now eyeing some game time at Hong Kong Football Club with the fourth seeds, who are bidding to win the Cup for the first time in their 10th appearance and 20th year as a club.

“I love rugby. I grew up playing rugby. It was a passion of mine since I was six or seven years old and to be a part of the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for me. I’m lucky with the way things worked out with the Patriots. I’m so blessed that they’re allowing me to do this,” said Ebner, who has been part of some gruelling training sessions since Monday.

“The Patriots knew I was a rugby player when they drafted me, so I don’t think they thought my decision was out of the blue, especially when I’m throwing the ball around like a rugby ball in practice every day!

“When you find out the sport you love is now in the Olympics, it’s hard to not want to be a part of that. I don’t really know my chances of being in the squad, because right now I’m just focused on playing for Samurai in the Hong Kong 10s and doing well here as a team. I need some games and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Ebner is part of a seven-nation Samurai squad that also features Canada 15s captain Hubert Buydens, four England Sevens players, a Wales Sevens forward, six New Zealanders and backs from South Africa and France.

Third seeds Penguins have bolstered their squad with forward Antonio Kiri Kiri, who earned a New Zealand Sevens contract for 2015-16 following appearances for the historic touring club at last year’s SCC Sevens in Singapore and COBRA 10s in Malaysia.

This week, Kiri Kiri is back with the Penguins in Hong Kong, where the 2013 champions have a squad dominated by 11 Kiwis.

“I’m on standby for the Singapore Sevens, so I could be in if they rest a player or two after Hong Kong, so fingers crossed. Now, though, I’m just focused on this and playing well for Penguins,” Kiri Kiri said.

“I’m quite excited about this team. I’ve been training with the boys all week and all of them look pretty sharp. We’ve got a fairly big side, so I think we’ll be quite physical. I’m really looking forward to it, to be honest.”

The 24-year-old Manawatu Turbos flanker made his debut for the All Blacks Sevens in South Africa in December as New Zealand Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens blooded his new recruit on the World Series.

“I was never a sevens player and then I went on a Penguins tour to Singapore and Malaysia at the end of last year and played sevens and 10s. I went all right and after the coaches got back, word got round to ‘Titch’ and he did some research on me. When he offered me a contract, I was pretty blown away,” Kiri Kiri said.

“It was a huge buzz to wear the black jersey in Cape Town. I never thought in my life I would play for New Zealand Sevens, so when that moment came about, it was pretty emotional. I went out there and did myself some good, played well and hopefully I’ll get another shot soon.”

Kiri Kiri is still amazed that his New Zealand Sevens breakthrough has come about as sevens makes its Olympic debut, 92 years after rugby last featured in the Games.

“I never thought I’d be in contention for any sort of Olympic sport, so that’s huge,” he said. “The Olympics has attracted a lot of big-time players to sevens, so to be alongside those sort of guys is pretty huge and the dream result is to go to Rio.”

BGC Asia Pacific Dragons, who feature three former All Blacks in their squad, are the top seeds in the GFI HKFC 10s after winning the Cup in 2012, 2014 and 2015, while Tradition YCAC, runners-up for the past two years, are seeded second.

Renowned as the world’s best annual 10-a-side tournament, the GFI HKFC 10s has long attracted the game’s top players including seven of the New Zealand team who won the 2015 Rugby World Cup – Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Sam Cane and Charlie Faumuina.

Along with GFI, other sponsors in 2016 include Allied World, Natixis and Rugby Pass (gold sponsors), DHL, Q-Net, Swire Properties and Withers (silver), Cashmaster, CBRE, CPA Global, EY, Markel, Structure Tone and Tricor (bronze), Pure Blonde (official beer), Highland Spring (official water) and Tsunami (official apparel). Make-A-Wish Hong Kong is this year’s official charity.

 

For more information, visit:

Website: www.hongkongtens.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HKFC10s

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GFIHKFC10s

Instagram: www.instagram.com/gfihkfc10s

#HK10s #WorldsBest10s

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