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4th April 2019

Biarritz Gavekal battle back to grab GFI HKFC 10s three-peat

Top seeds rebound from first-day loss and come from behind in Cup final to defeat Samurai International, runners-up for the fourth time in ‘World’s Best 10s’

Biarritz Gavekal secured a remarkable hat-trick of GFI HKFC 10s titles by coming from a try down to beat Samurai International 19-7 in the Cup final at Hong Kong Football Club.

Gavekal suffered a surprise 14-12 loss to Scotland’s Projecx Waterboys on day one and finished second in their pool, so had to defeat last year’s runners-up Tradition YCAC 12-5 in an intense quarter-final before thrashing debutants Mourant Fiji Army 43-0 in the semis.

In the final, they were 7-0 down to Samurai before drawing level with a try by Penikolo Latu and an excellent conversion from out wide by captain Nick Smith, two of five New Zealanders to score their points in the final.

Glenn Preston scored Gavekal’s second try to put the top seeds 12-7 up before a try by Hong Kong-based Karetai Williams – named Best and Fairest player of the tournament – and a Jason Robertson conversion put them out of reach.

Vice-captain in 2017, Smith has captained the side for the last two years and couldn’t contain his excitement as Gavekal became the first side to win three titles in a row since New Zealand Metro achieved the feat from 2006-08.

“It’s really special. When I first came here in 2017 and we were 11th seeds, I didn’t know what to expect. To think I’d be back winning the Cup for a third year is fairy-tale stuff,” said Smith.

“You can’t write this. I’m extremely happy. We played some of our best footie in the final and showed the growth of the team from the first to the last games.”

The all-action Williams was among several Hong Kong-based players in the squad and also among those to win the Cup for a third straight year.

“I think this year was probably the hardest. The standard of footy in the 10s is going up every year, so we’ve got to keep bringing more and more secrets out of the bag,” said Williams, who seemed genuinely surprised at his personal accolade.

“I think having more of a leadership role in the team made me kind of focus on my discipline and just offer more to the boys.

“As for winning, there’s a lot of pressure, but we run on excitement. It’s all about those 50-50s and we wiped those out in the final. We let the Kiwis and Fijians that come over finish with class, but it’s up to us Hong Kong boys to graft in the middle there. That’s all we’re here for.”

Second seeds YCAC won the second-tier Plate with a 28-5 win over Stephen Larkham’s Classic Wallabies, as the Kiwi-dominated side lifted their first trophy in seven years after reaching the Cup final in in 2014, 2015 and 2018, and also three Cup semis.

“We’re pretty happy. Obviously we’d have liked to have been in the Cup final, fighting for the Cup, but we’re happy to win a bit of silverware,” said captain Warwick Lahmert, who has played for both New Zealand and England Sevens.

“The last two times I’ve been with Tradition YCAC, we’ve fallen short in the final. Playing Gavekal was like playing a final in the quarter-final, but that’s rugby. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best.”

USA’s Tiger Rugby won the third-tier Bowl in their second year at the tournament, also lifting silverware for the first time after a 12-7 win over France’s Kir Club Pyrenees.

Tiger’s squad included several USA 15s and sevens internationals, plus the likes of Kenya’s Oscar Ouma, Samoa’s Greg Foe and Fiji’s Kitione Taliga, a 2016 Olympic gold medallist.

“It’s an awesome feeling. Every time we come here it’s such an amazing atmosphere,” said Australia-born captain Harry Higgins, who has played for USA 15s.

“The boys really came together on day two. We put the structures together on day one, then came out here today and tried to execute as best we could, while minimising errors.”

Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles won the fourth-tier Shield with a 12-10 victory over hosts Natixis HKFC, whose squad was boosted by Samoan stars Neria Fomai and Alesana Tuilagi.

In the afternoon, a cheque for HK$250,000 was presented by the GFI HKFC 10s to the Hong Kong Cancer Fund, the tournament’s official charity, following the first Rugby Legends Tackle Cancer exhibition game.

Former England flyhalf Andy Goode captained a side including compatriots Jason Leonard, Simon Shaw, Rob Vickerman, Ben Gollings and Tom Varndell, Scotland’s Tom Smith, Hong Kong’s Rowan Varty and New Zealand’s Olivia Coady.

Waisale Serevi, the ‘King of Sevens’, and ‘Captain America’ Todd Clever joined a team captained by former Scotland lock Jim Hamilton.

The side also included Australians David Campese and Justin Harrison, New Zealanders DJ Forbes, Scott Waldrom and Terry Wright, ‘Samoan Bulldozer’ Alesana Tuilagi and Samoa women’s international Bella Milo, plus Fiji’s Sam Viriviri, the 2014 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year.

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