Sakeo Raloa, Samu Bale and Keponi Paul return as champions seek third straight Cup title, O’Donnell brothers back for three-time finalists Tradition YCAC, Kir Club Pyrenees recruit former All Blacks wing Frank Halai, while USA’s Tiger Rugby draft 2016 Olympic gold medallist Kitione Taliga
Hong Kong; March 29, 2019: Fiji Sevens trio Sakeo Raloa, Samu Bale and Keponi Paul will return for Biarritz Gavekal as the Cup holders attempt to win a third straight GFI HKFC 10s title at Hong Kong Football Club from April 3-4.
Bale and Kiwi back Nick Smith, captain last year, will both seek a third title in three years along with a trio from local club Valley: prop Grant Kemp and scrumhalf Ruan Du Plooy of South Africa, and Kiwi back-rower Karetai Williams.
Andrew Kelly, the former Scotland A hooker, and former France Sevens player Renaud Dulin return as Gavekal coaches for a third year and are joined by Mark Fatialofa, the former Samoa and Exeter centre who works with Kelly as part of the Hong Kong XV coaching staff.
“We were lucky two years ago, we were lucky last year, so we’re expecting to be lucky again this year,” joked team manager Jean-Baptiste Aldige, Executive Chairman of French club Biarritz. “Actually, this year it looks like the GFI HKFC 10s has quite a number of top teams able to bring home the Cup, which is good for the event and rugby in Hong Kong.
“Our focus is just to try to get out of our pool and reach the cup quarter-finals, because last year we were close to losing our first match. Our focus is on everything that we can control, because we can’t control external factors.”
Gavekal start in Pool A with Kir Club Pyrenees (eighth seeds), Projecx Waterboys (ninth) and Shanghai RFC Silver Dragons (16th).
David Darricarrere, who masterminded France’s victory in last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship, is head coach for a Pyrenees squad that includes Lyon centre Adrien Seguret from the U20 world champions and 6ft 5in wing Frank Halai, the former All Blacks and New Zealand Sevens winger.
Waterboys, Cup quarter-finalists for the last three years, have another strong squad including Glasgow Warriors and Scotland U20 scrumhalf Kaleem Barreto, Scotland Sevens forward Mungo Mason and Marr wing Scott Bickerstaff.
Second seeds Tradition YCAC, pipped 24-17 by Gavekal in last year’s final, head Pool B and return with a familiar squad including Kylem and Declan O’Donnell, both former Super Rugby and New Zealand Sevens players. Pool B also includes A-Trade Overseas Old Boys (seventh seeds), Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles (10th) and Irish Vikings (15th).
Overseas Old Boys have a strong backline including new England Sevens addition Jamie Barden and long-time Harlequins wing Charlie Walker, who’s among three England Academy Sevens players along with 19-year-old fliers Ben Harris and Femi Sofolarin.
Scottish Exiles is dominated by Hong Kong Scottish players but with additional Hong Kong XV reinforcements and players from new Global Rapid Rugby team South China Tigers including former China captain Ma Chong and fellow back Louie Liu Junkui. An improved Irish Vikings line-up includes former New Zealand Sevens wing Jesse Houston and current Cardiff flyhalf Steffan Jones.
Isake Katonibau, part of Fiji’s winning teams at the last four Hong Kong Sevens, will captain fourth seeds Mourant Fiji Army, who are coached by Jope Tuikabe and face a tough start in Pool D against Samurai International (fifth seeds), Hunter and Boo East Africans (12th) and USA’s Tiger Rugby (13th).
Fiji Army’s standout forwards include Sireli Ledua, Jolame Bera, Lemeki Damu and Jiuta Takubu, who are among the top players in Fiji’s domestic competition and have represented the country in either 15s or sevens.
Maori All Blacks boss Clayton McMillan is coaching a Kiwi-dominated Samurai squad, which includes many of his own players from Bay of Plenty including Tonga No. 8 Zane Kapeli and former Chiefs prop Jeff Thwaites. All Blacks Sevens stars Akuila Rokolisoa and Ngarohi McGarvey, and Wellington No. 8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas are among the non-Steamers.
East Africans reached the final of the third-tier Bowl last year and are back with a similar squad including Rwanda and Uganda internationals and seven Kenyans, including flanker Philip Awuor making a fourth appearance. South African hooker Ismaeel Schroeder and flyhalf Angelo Grant Nelson return for a second year with New Zealanders Irwin Finau, Nathan Vaatausili and Patrick Pati, while compatriot Villiam Muna joins this year.
Tiger Rugby, who reached the Bowl semis on their debut last year, have included 2016 Olympic gold medallist Kitione Taliga in their squad. Ben Broselle helped hosts USA retain their title at last month’s USA Sevens and the teenage centre is among four players returning to Hong Kong with Tigers along with recent USA Sevens representatives Cody Melphy and fullback Naima Fuala’au, plus Australia-born Harry Higgins, who will captain the side.
Flyhalf Greg Foe has played 15s and Sevens for Samoa, and also has GFI HKFC 10s experience with Asia Pacific Dragons in 2017, while powerful Kenya Sevens star Oscar Ouma is another to look out for.
Pools A, B, C and D will be held on Wednesday before the knockout matches commence on Thursday, when the Rugby Legends Tackle Cancer exhibition match will kick-off at 3.50pm – ahead of the Cup semi-finals – to raise money for Hong Kong Cancer Fund, the tournament’s official charity.
To date, the confirmed sevens and 15s internationals for Tackle Cancer comprise Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa), David Campese, Justin Harrison (Australia), DJ Forbes, Scott Waldrom, Terry Wright (New Zealand), Jim Hamilton (Scotland), Sam Viriviri (Fiji), Rowan Varty (Hong Kong), Simon Shaw, Tom Varndell, Andy Goode, Ben Gollings and Rob Vickerman (England).
The match will be a 10-a-side touch contest, with each team mixing the current and former rugby stars with amateurs. Money will be raised by sponsorship, participation and on-site donations.
34th GFI HKFC 10s: Teams by seeding/pool (with selected highlights)