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29th March 2018

Holders UBB Gavekal flying in five Fiji Sevens players for GFI HKFC 10s

Tradition YCAC draft five former All Blacks Sevens, while hosts Natixis HKFC will be co-captained by Rugby World Cup Sevens winner Tom Isaacs, who returns to the ‘World’s Best 10s’ 12 years after his competition debut

 

Hong Kong; March 29, 2018: Defending champions UBB Gavekal have included five contracted Fiji Sevens players in their squad for next week’s 33rd GFI HKFC 10s, which will be held at Hong Kong Football Club from April 4-5.

Winger Samu Bale returns to Matt Clarkin’s side after scoring four tries in the GFI HKFC 10s last April, a month before he made his World Rugby Sevens Series debut in Paris.

The 25-year-old wing is joined in this year’s UBB squad in Hong Kong by fellow Fijian backs Sakeo Raloa and Leveni Kurimalawai, and forwards Keponi Paul and Vasikali Mudu, who made his Sevens Series debut in Las Vegas in February.

After watching Raloa at the Coral Coast Sevens in January, former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan wrote on Twitter: “I think we might have seen the next Sevens star here today – Sakeo Raloa.”

Last year, Bale and three other Fiji Sevens backs – Lemeki Tulele, Josua Vici and Glen Cakautini – scored 12 tries between them as UBB Gavekal defied their 11th-seed status to win the Bill Burgess Cup for the first time.

The team won the Bowl on their debut in 2015 and finished runners-up in the third-tier competition in 2016, but last year secured the Fijian quartet with the cooperation of Fiji Sevens coach Gareth Baber, the former Hong Kong Sevens boss who was also happy to release his players again this year.

Jean-Baptiste Aldige, UBB Gavekal’s team manager, said: “It’s great to have Samu back and we know he’s in good form because he just finished top try scorer at the Marist 7s in Suva. Leveni played rugby league in Australia last year and is now back in Fiji.

“Sakeo Raloa is the big plus. This guy is on the radar of many European clubs and was MVP of the Coral Coast Sevens in January. This time, we also have a couple of forwards, Keponi and Vasikali, so we’re grateful to Gareth again for these players.”

Aldige, a former Valley and Hong Kong player, said the team would still enter with the same ‘challenger mentality’, but admitted it was far easier organising a squad on behalf of the Cup winners as opposed to previous years.

“Last year, the plan was to get into the Cup quarter-finals and that is again our first ambition. Last year we were the underdogs, the challengers, and we still have that mentality. In a short knockout match, the difference between winning and losing can be such a small margin or a bit of luck. Last year, we had the chances and took them,” Aldige said.

“Now, because of the popularity of the GFI HKFC 10s and the fact we’re the champion, we’re a popular team. When I try to call players or reach them, I get a reply in a few minutes. This is different from a couple of years ago when I was just trying to get a team together.”

Kiwi flyhalf Nick Smith also returns from last year when he kicked 11 conversions, one penalty and the last-minute drop-kick to beat Penguins 10-7 in the final. However, 2017 captain Aorangi Stokes, the Player of the Tournament, is unable to return to Hong Kong after a recent injury.

Bale, Smith and winger Penikolo Latu, who represented New Zealand U20 and made his Tonga 15s debut last November, are among seven of last year’s winners included in a provisional 21-man squad that will be trimmed to 18 for Wednesday’s pool stage.

The other four 2017 winners are from domestic champions Valley – South African forwards Grant Kemp and Martin Muller, and scrumhalf Ruan Du Plooy and back-rower Karetai Williams of New Zealand.

Kemp (Southern Kings) and Muller (Lions, Cheetahs, Stormers) are among several UBB Gavekal players with Super Rugby experience along with Kiwi centre Jordan Payne (Chiefs) and hooker Sekonaia Pole, who made his Highlanders debut last year. Hugh Chalmers is also among the newcomers after a decade with Top 14 club UBB (Union Bordeaux Begles).

On Wednesday, UBB will face the star-studded Classic Wallabies – featuring eight former Australia internationals including Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Luke Burgess and Matt Hodgson – as well as A-Trade Overseas Old Boys and Hunter + Boo East Africans in Pool A.

In Pool B, Tom Isaacs will make a long-awaited return to the GFI HKFC 10s as the former Wales Sevens back – who won the 2009 Rugby Cup Sevens in Dubai – co-captains hosts Natixis HKFC with Kiwi hooker Mitch Andrews. Isaacs played for Cardiff University in the 10s in 2006 and 2007, losing in the second-tier Plate final each time.

The former Ospreys and Cardiff Blues star moved to Hong Kong in late 2016, months after competing in the Hong Kong Sevens, but missed last year’s 10s due to injury so is excited to return 12 years after his 10s debut.

“We’ve worked hard on building a good culture within the team and we've had some really good, strong results, but it was unfortunate we didn’t manage to top the league, so we’re hoping to go one better next year,” said Isaacs, whose side will face second seeds Turkish Airlines Penguins, Scotland’s Projecx Waterboys and Irish Vikings in the pool stage.

“Having seen the players this year, there’s some pretty frightening opposition. We’re up against some strong teams. Penguins are always one of the favourites and I even played Irish Vikings in the 2007 Plate final. We’re expecting a couple of bruising encounters in the group, but we’ve got a good group of boys and we really want to compete well this year.”

Lewis Ormond returns for two-time champions Turkish Airlines Penguins and is joined by scrumhalf Tamati Samuels, his All Blacks Sevens teammate in the 2016-17 Sevens Series. Flyhalf Trent Renata, who has played Super Rugby for Highlanders and Chiefs, will also play for the second seeds.

Three players from Penguins’ victorious 2016 squad – forwards Ben Nee Nee, Brad Tucker and Matt Matich – also return along with the co-coaches from that year, Willie Walker and former All Black Scott Waldrom.

Third seeds Tradition YCAC, who have reached two Cup finals and three semis in their first five appearances, will feature five former All Blacks Sevens – Sherwin Stowers, New Zealand’s fourth-highest try scorer on the Sevens Series, playmaker Rocky Khan, Warwick Lahmert, Mark Jackman and Veteran Ed Cocker.

Samurai International’s all-Fijian squad includes scrumhalf Emosi Vucago, the former Fiji Sevens captain who scored 98 tries in 181 matches, and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Masivesi Dakuwaqa.

Sainivalati Ramuwai, Sitiveni Waqa and playmaker Livai Ikanikoda are among the fourth seeds’ other former Fiji Sevens stars as the finalists in 2010, 2013 and 2016 seek a first Cup win under the leadership of Nasoni Roko, still among the Sevens Series’ top 20 all-time try scorers.

GFI has title sponsored the event since 2006. Other sponsors and suppliers for 2018 include Natixis (Gold Sponsor), AIA, Allied World, BT, DHL, Q-Net and Taikoo Place (Silver Sponsors), CBRE, EY and Markel (Bronze Sponsors), Last Word Media, Volvo (Official Car), Grolsch (Official Beer) and Samurai Sportswear (Official Apparel).

The Official Charity is the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, created in support of former Scotland and Lions lock Doddie Weir who is suffering from Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

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 All Blacks who won the 2015 Rugby World Cup – Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino (both 2003), Ben Smith, Charlie Faumuina (both 2008), Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane (both 2010) and Nehe Milner-Skudder (2013).

33rd GFI HKFC 10s 2018: Pool Stage

Seeding in brackets

Pool A: UBB Gavekal (1), Classic Wallabies (8), A-Trade Overseas Old Boys (12), Hunter + Boo East Africans (16)

Pool B: Turkish Airlines Penguins (2), Projecx Waterboys (7), Irish Vikings (11), Natixis HKFC (15)

Pool C: Tradition YCAC (3), King’s College sponsored by Strategic Equity Alliance (6)

CCIG Tigers (10), Devil’s Own Shanghai Silver Dragons (14)

Pool D: Samurai International (4), Kir Club Pyrenees (5), Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles (9) Sedbergh School Old Boys (13)

 

Schedule:             www.hongkongtens.com/match.php

Tickets:                   www.ticketflap.com/gfihkfc10s2018

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