Penguins, Samurai field Sevens Series stars; Wendell Sailor 'feeling old'
Penguins’ New Zealand Sevens quartet (from left) Teddy Stanaway, Joe Webber, Tone Ng Shiu and Lewis Ormond pick on England Sevens teammate Callum Sirker (middle).
Joe Webber is among a batch of Sevens Series players helping top-seeded Penguins defend their title in Hong Kong, but England Sevens livewire Cam Cowell wants to “prove that Samurai are the best invitational team in the world”
Hong Kong; April 4, 2017: Joe Webber will play competitive rugby for the first time since last year’s Rio Olympics when the New Zealand Sevens star competes for defending champions Penguin International in the GFI HKFC 10s on Wednesday and Thursday.
Penguins trained opposite Samurai – their victims in the 2013 and 2016 finals – at Hong Kong Football Club on Tuesday as both star-studded squads enjoyed final hit-outs before Wednesday’s pool stage.
Penguins start in Pool A against Projecx Waterboys of Scotland, an Irish Vikings squad with three England Sevens Academy players, and Devil’s Advocate Silver Dragons (SRFC and SUS) from Shanghai.
Webber, 23, will feature for Penguins along with New Zealand Sevens teammates Tone Ng Shiu and Lewis Ormond, Bay of Plenty centre Teddy Stanaway, who played on the 2015-16 Sevens Series, and England Sevens wing Callum Sirker, who turns 19 on Wednesday.
Webber has previously watched the GFI HKFC 10s before competing in the Hong Kong Sevens and is arguably the keenest to get going after spending eight months out with a shoulder injury sustained in his first tackle in the opening-match loss to Japan at the Olympics.
“It’s my first time playing for Penguins and in the GFI HKFC 10s. Every year we come and watch the 10s and I’ve always been keen to give it a go. I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity this year,” said Webber, who first played for New Zealand on the 2011-12 World Rugby Sevens Series and remembers losing to Fiji in the 2012 Hong Kong Sevens final.
“I haven’t played since Rio so this is my first game back for eight months. It was gutting when it happened, especially as I was out for six months before that, so I’m sick of rehab and staying at home watching the boys on TV!
“Now, it’s just fortunate that a couple of us from the New Zealand Sevens squad are coming back from injury at the same time and get a chance to play. I know the Hong Kong 10s is a special tournament for Penguins and one they always look forward to. I’m feeling fit and have been training hard, so I’m looking forward to it.”
England Sevens scrumhalf Cameron Cowell has his own mission as he returns for second seeds Mourant Ozannes Samurai International. After helping the team reach last year’s final, he was called up to the Hong Kong Sevens squad and had to miss the Penguins showdown along with injured England teammates James Cordy-Redden and John Brake.
Daniel Temm – called up to England Sevens soon after his GFI HKFC 10s debut last year – also returns for Samurai, while Oskar Hirskj-Douglas – who played for England at last year’s Hong Kong Sevens – is representing the three-time runners-up for the first time.
“I was very disappointed to miss the final last year. All the boys worked so hard and I was just really disappointed I couldn’t be there in the final and I think we might have won it, even against a strong Penguins side,” said Cowell, who has been with England Sevens since 2015.
“Obviously getting called up to play in the Hong Kong Sevens is not a bad thing. It was the best sevens tournament I played in last year, but it was tough for me to play five days on the bounce, also with training.
“This year, Daniel and Oskar are both very physical ball carriers and very quick, so I’m sure people will be seeing some big hits from them in the 10s. Fingers crossed, we get to the final and I get that chance to prove that Samurai are the best invitational team in the world. That’s my plan for this year.”
Samurai will play in Pool B with Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles, a UBB Gavekal side with four contracted Fiji Sevens players, and CRFA Gladiators from China.
The Hogan Lovells Asia Pacific Dragons, coached by Heyneke Meyer and featuring Springbok wing Cornal Hendricks and former All Blacks lock Isaac Ross, are the third seeds and looking to add to the titles won under Tana Umaga in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
The APDs headline Pool C and will face reigning Plate champions A-Trade Overseas Old Boys, young Australian side King’s College at UQ - sponsored by Strategic Equity Alliance, and hosts Natixis HKFC.
Pool D comprises two-time runners-up Tradition YCAC, debutants Classic Wallabies, Kir Club Pyrenees of France and GoCloudWifi East Africans. As the tournament’s only debutants, the Classic Wallabies will be a star attraction, especially with giant wing Wendell ‘Big Dell’ Sailor aiming to make an impact.
The Justin Harrison-coached squad has a mix of former Australia internationals and Super Rugby stars, rugby league stalwart Steve Menzies and half-a-dozen contracted Australia Sevens players.
The big-framed Sailor – who played with Harrison in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final against England – is a big attraction after representing Australia in both rugby league and union, but admits he’ll be relying on the younger Sevens players to do most of the running.
“I'm feeling old compared to some of these young whippersnappers. I’ve played sevens and I’ve played 15s, but the 10s is different for me and I’ve never played on this synthetic surface before,” said Sailor, whose teammates include former Wallabies Morgan Turinui, Stephen Hoiles and Luke Burgess.
“I’ve been watching some of the speed out wide from the other teams and some of our guys, so I’ll let most of the young guys do the speed stuff but I’ll come in and have a couple of runs in the backs. Our Aussie Sevens guys look really good, but we’ve also got ‘Hoilesy’ and Morgan Turinui who are quite smart in the way they do things and that’ll put us in good stead.”
On day two, the event divides into Cup and Bowl quarter-finals, then splits into four sets of semi-finals: Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield.
The GFI HKFC 10s is broadcast live on the official website (www.hongkongtens.com) and YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/hkfc10s). Host broadcaster Now TV will also show live action on April 5 (1.40pm-9.00pm) and April 6 (3.00pm-8.30pm) on Now Sports Prime (Channel 600) and Now Sports 5 (Channel 635).
Tickets are available at Ticketflap (www.ticketflap.com/gfi2017), including ‘Early Bird’ offers for two days of rugby (HK$150) and the After Party (HK$250). All ticket receipts and onsite donations will be given to the two official charities: The Umbrella Foundation (Nepal) and Khelo Rugby (India).
Inaugurated in 1986 to celebrate Hong Kong Football Club’s centenary, 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 2017 include Allied World and Natixis (gold sponsors), BT/Riverbed, DHL, Q-Net, Swire Properties/Taikoo Place and Withers (silver), CBRE, CPA Global, EY, Markel and Tricor (bronze), Pure Blonde (official beer), Home Alimental (official water), Tsunami Sport (official apparel), Regal Hongkong Hotel (official hotel) and CUHK Sports Medicine (medical support).
For more information, visit:
Website: www.hongkongtens.com (live streaming)
YouTube: www.youtube.com/hkfc10s (live streaming)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HKFC10s (live streaming)
Hashtag: #HK10s< back