Article by Dick Tyson
The HSBC Penguins’ week in Hong Kong began with the lads, and Sue our masseur, flying in from Australia, New Zealand, England and Malaysia. Most of the squad got together for the first time at the Hong Kong Football Club on Sunday, 17th March, with the late arrivals meeting up at the team’s hotel, The Emperor in Happy Valley, an hour or so later.
The first evening’s activity consisted of a nicely laid-back ‘get-to-know-everyone’ team-building Chinese meal at The American Peking Restaurant in Lockhart Road, Wan Chai. This was closely followed by a few beers at that old HSBC Penguins’ favourite, The White Stag, just a few yards down the road.
On Monday the team had breakfast in the hotel before gathering in reception at 10.00AM for the short, 20 minute walk to training - which took place on the main pitch at the Hong Kong Football Club. During the course of the session it was nice to meet up with our old HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy friend and ex-Scotland manager, Frank Hadden, who was in Hong Kong coaching the Rwanda national team, who were also taking part in the GFI HKFC Tens Tournament. HSBC Penguins President Richard Bennett also popped in to say hello to the squad during the morning session. After lunch the squad had another training session at HKFC before heading back to the hotel
The entire squad met in reception at 6.00PM and walked around the corner to the Happy Valley Trolley Bus Terminal, where we all piled on a trolley bus for a trip to the magnificent HSBC Headquarters in Central Hong Kong. The HSBC Penguins had been invited along as special guests at the HSBC Staff Rugby Awards. Among those present on the night were the Club’s great friend Giles Morgan (HSBC Head of Sponsorship), ex-England international and HKFC stalwart Bob Lloyd, HSBC Rugby Ambassador and ex-Scotland and British & Irish Lions captain Gavin Hastings and John Breen, HSBC Penguins’ very own ‘Man in Fiji’! After this very special evening at the top of Hong Kong’s most iconic building, the lads split up into several groups to sample the many delights of Central, Wan Chai and Happy Valley.
Tuesday morning, bright and early, and a couple of hours spent on Training Pitch Number 14 at HKFC. Our Head Coach, Tim Lane, confided that he was very happy with the way the team was gelling. The boys were certainly looking fast, sharp and skilful. The morning’s coaching was followed by a swift shower and a quick dip in the Club’s wonderful swimming pool. We all said hello to the Rwandan boys who were also taking the chance to relax for an hour or two. The whole squad then took lunch at the wonderful outside restaurant adjacent to the pool.
The Tour management spent the afternoon sorting through kit for the following morning’s playing jersey presentation, due to take place in the hotel. Then at 4.00PM the entire squad, plus the HSBC Penguin International Coaching Academy coaches, hopped on a bus and were whisked away to Sandy Bay RFC on the west of Hong Kong island for a team training run and then a full-on coaching session with the youngsters of Sandy Bay Rugby Club. Unfortunately the evening’s events had to be cancelled due to massive electrical storms and torrential rain. After driving back to Happy Valley the rest of the evening was spent having dinner at HKFC, where we were met by Alec and Bill Calcraft, who had just flown in from Australia. Among the other famous faces present at the HKFC on the night were ex-Leicester Tigers, England and British & Irish Lions hooker Peter Wheeler and ex-Llanelli, Bath, Wales and British & Irish Lions winger, Ieuan Evans.
Wednesday, and the first day of the two-day GFI HKFC Tens Tournament. We had a low-key playing jersey presentation in the morning, with Coach Tim Lane giving a short but heartfelt speech on what it means to be a Penguin and how the team could make its own special history during the course of the next 48 hours. The second-seeded HSBC Penguins’ first game of the GFI HKFC Tens took place at 11.50AM and was a fairly relaxed victory over Playmore’s Devils-Own Wanderers by 55 points to nil. After lunch, again at HKFC, the HSBC Penguins played their second match of the pool stages against A-Trade Overseas Old Boys. Once again, the Club managed a fairly easy victory, this time by 29 points to 5. The third pool match, which took place under floodlights at 7.45PM, saw the HSBC Penguins come unstuck against very determined fellow-seeds Yokohama Country & Athletic Club (Tradition YCAC). In a contest which was riddled with uncharacteristic Penguin knock-ons and fumbles, the Japanese-based side ran out eventual winners by 21 points to 7. This meant that the HSBC Penguins’ first match on Thursday would be a make-or-break, quarter-final knock-out encounter against tournament favourites, Tana Umaga’s BGC APB (Asia Pacific Brothers) All Stars - a team which included in its number formidable All Blacks Antony Tuitavake, Marty Hollah and Rico Gear, plus Manu Samoa’s World Cup flyers Seilala Mapusua and Elvis Sevealii.
Before this massive ‘Clash of the Tournament’, however, there was the small matter of the Penguin International RFC Hong Kong Dinner on the Wednesday evening at the Hong Kong Football Club to look forward to. This proved to be a wonderful occasion, with over 50 Penguins of all ages and from all points of the compass in attendance. The Dinner kicked-off with short speeches by PIRFC CEO and Tour Manager Craig Brown and PIRFC Information Secretary and Assistant Tour Manager, Dick Tyson. Craig welcomed everybody to the Tournament and the Dinner on behalf of the Club, and Dick made a short speech about his soon-to-be-published book ‘The History of the Penguin International RFC’ . And thanks, David and Vincent, for the heckling!
Thursday, 21st March. A day when HSBC Penguins made history! The quarter-final against BGC APB All Stars kicked off at 11.55am and was almost unbearably exciting and very difficult to watch (David Townsend and Dick Tyson in particular discussed their options and were very tempted to go for a walk at half-time!).
Ultimately second seeds HSBC Penguins beat top-seeded BGC APB All Stars 7-5 in a pulsating quarter-final, in which England Sevens duo Chris Brightwell and James Lightfoot-Brown supplied the first-half try and conversion respectively for the HSBC Penguins. Brightwell’s try followed a strong lineout drive in the far-right corner midway through the first half before Lightfoot-Brown kicked a superb conversion from near the right touchline.
Lightfoot-Brown looked set to extend the lead in the second half when he ran 60 metres to the try line, but the 19-year-old scrum-half fumbled the ball when trying to touch down. After play restarted, APB’s fly-half Elvis Seveali’i (replacing suspended playmaker Orene Ai’i who had been sent off in a pool game) performed a sublime chip-and-catch over the HSBC Penguins’ backline within his own 22. The former Samoa international ran to the halfway line before kicking out wide for Fijian winger Joe Lilidamu to collect and touch down in the corner. However, Seveali’i failed to convert and the defending champions were unable to claw back the two point deficit in the final couple of minutes. The victory helped the Club earn a measure of revenge after losing to the APBs in extra-time of their Cup semi-final encounter in 2011.
The HSBC Penguins then had to wait until 5.35PM before playing the Cup semi-final against their old friends COBRA from Malaysia. The forwards took the game to the opposition with a driving maul from lineout approach yeilding all Penguin tries. In yet another close-fought and thrilling encounter, the HSBC Penguins once again prevailed - this time by 22 points to 17, with tries by Dylan Sigg, Chris Walker, Chris Brightwell and Captain, Reece Robinson.
And then it was upon us - 8.10PM, and the GFI HKFC Tens Cup Final against the formidable ULR Samurai International - who were fielding 15 Fijians and the Australian flanker Lala Lam in their bid to win the Cup! Could we win it at last after six previous, unsuccessful attempts?
Well, yes, we could actually!
The HSBC Penguins finally won the GFI HKFC Tens at the seventh attempt after beating ULR Samurai International 21-14 in a fiercely fought Cup Final. The two teams had been locked at 14-14 at half-time after the HSBC Penguins scored through Australian flanker Dylan Sigg and former Hong Kong scrum-half Johnny Gbenda-Charles, who was set up by Sigg. Samurai drew level each time through breakaway tries, first by Paula Tikomainaivalu and then through scrum-half Kelemedi Bola.
This marvellous final was a clash of two famous invitational teams, both seeking to win the title for the first time in their seventh appearance. But it was the second-seeded HSBC Penguins who were left celebrating after a thrilling end-to-end contest clinched by Richard Hooper’s dramatic try, with only 23 seconds left on the clock.
Australian winger Hooper outsprinted the Samurai defence to touch down a last-minute grubber kick by England Sevens scrum-half James Lightfoot-Brown, who had, himself, sprinted over 50 metres along the right touchline after making a blind-side break from a scrum near his own 22 metre line.
“I’m buggered. I’m absolutely blowing. I can’t stop smiling. James is a classy player, so I knew he’d get the ball to me somehow and it couldn’t have worked out better. It was a last-ditch effort, but we got there in the end,” said 22-year-old Hooper, who just before his winning try had made a last-ditch tackle to prevent Samurai scoring by the corner flag. “Everyone’s put in so much, so to be part of this victory means a lot. We’ve bonded quickly and the team has gone from strength to strength. The Penguins are a great Club to be a part of. It means a lot to me, but I know it means a lot to them.”
James Lightfoot-Brown, who kicked ten conversions over the two days, had a truly standout tournament along with England Sevens teammate Chris Brightwell, who scored five tries. “I just saw a bit of space on the blind side, but I ended up having to pull out of the sprint as he was catching me. I saw Rich on the inside, thought I’d give it a go and he got there in the end. He’s pretty quick. To go that quick at that time of the game is pretty impressive,” said the slightly built 19-year-old.
“We’ve had a lot of dinners with the Club talking about how they really want to win it, so it’s amazing for Chris and me to win it on our first trip. Now, we just hope England can go well at the weekend and win the Sevens.”
Team Manager Craig Brown immediately phoned HSBC Penguins’ co-founder and Life President Alan Wright to inform him of the victory, which followed two Final losses in 2007 and 2008, a Plate win in 2009 and three straight semi-final defeats. “I think Alan will be doing cartwheels down the streets, which is not bad for an 83-year-old,” said Brown, who included Lightfoot-Brown, Brightwell, Sigg and Captain Reece Robinson among the team’s outstanding performers. “Samurai scored two breakaway tries, but I thought we put together two very well-constructed team tries. When they almost scored at the end we thought, ‘what can we do from here?’. Then James, cheeky little bugger that he is, made a break and Richard followed up to just beat the Fijian to the ball.”
The HSBC Penguins’ outstanding Dylan Sigg deservedly won Player of the Tournament, but it must have been a close-run thing, because every single Penguin International RFC player was a superstar!
The After Tournament Party on Thursday night at The Hong Kong Football Club was a joyous occasion with the Champions (that’s us!) at last being able to imbibe some celebratory alcohol and let their collective hair down in marvellous surroundings.
After dinner every team had to get up on stage and do a piece. Although nobody quite came close to the Rwandan Squad, whose dancing and singing was absolutely inspired, as always - those boys certainly know how to enjoy themselves, win or lose, the HSBC Penguins treated all present to their incredibly clever ‘Synchronised Clapping’ routine, closely followed by the ‘Penguin Shuffle’ - which all seemed to go down very well in the great post-tournament atmosphere. I would write more about the rest of the evening, but it all became bit of a blur after that.
Back row, L-R: Roddy McIntosh (Trainer), Dean Jennings (Coach - Bay of Plenty, New Zealand 7s), Dick Tyson (Assistant Tour Manager & PIRFC Info Sec), Craig Brown (Tour Manager and PIRFC CEO), Reece Robinson (College Old Boys, Manawatu, Taranaki, Chiefs, Maori All Blacks - Captain), Will Helu (Manly, Bristol, Tonga), Chris Brightwell (Sale, England 7s), Chris Walker (Cottesloe, Tukapa, Taranaki, Hurricanes Dev, NZ U21), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Varsity, Manawatu 7s & XVs, Chiefs),Tim Lane (Coach - Manly, Clermont Ferrand, Cats, Ricoh Black Rams, CA Brive,Toulon, Australia and South Africa), Paulo Aukuso (Oriental Rongotai, Wellington Dev), Andrew Kelly (Valley, Edinburgh, Scotland U18, U19, U21 & A), David Townsend (PIRFC Senior VP), Marc Daniel (Physio).
Front row, L-R: James Lightfoot-Brown (Exeter, England U18 & 7s), Sue Olovsson (Masseur), Harry Bergelin (Manly, Australia 7s Squad), Johnny Gbenda-Charles (Marist St. Pats, Tasman B, Hong Kong 7s & XVs), Paul Ngauamo (Brighton, Canterbury, Crusader Knights, NZ U20), Richard Hooper (Manly, Australia 7s Squad),Michael Lealava'a (Petone, Wellington, Tasman),Willie Ripia (Force, Hurricanes, Highlanders, NZ U19, U21, Maori), Dane Maraki (Manly, Otago Squad, Warratahs WT Squad), Dylan Sigg (Manly, Crociati RFC, NSW Dev, Brumbies, Australia Schools & U19).
HSBC Penguins 55 v 0 Playmore’s Devils Own wanderers
HSBC Penguins 29 v 5 A-Trade Overseas Old Boys
HSBC Penguins 7 v 21 Tradition YCAC
HSBC Penguins 7 v 5 BGC APB All Stars
HSBC Penguins 22 v 17 COBRA
HSBC Penguins 21 v 14 URL Samurai International
Friday morning at 10AM the entire squad collected their uniform of the day - pink polo shirts with the words ‘Official Eye Candy’ emblazoned across the front. This was the outfit for our visit to The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation ‘Ladies Long Lunch’ - a special charity function at the world famous Hong Kong Jockey Club, Happy Valley Racecourse! A marvellous day was had by all. Many of the players were kitted out as models and were ‘dressed to kill’ as befitted the James Bond theme - and the ladies seemed to enjoy this part of the event, too (that is an understatement, by the way!).
At the end of a terrific afternoon of wonderful food, free-flowing champagne for the ladies, auctions, fashion shows, dancing and general revelry, nobody in the Penguins party was wearing their pink polo shirts anymore - the ladies had had them off our backs and bought them all (and all that money went to the Foundation Charity, too!) All-in-all, and thanks to the generosity of all involved, the Christina Noble Foundation made the staggering sum of HK$1,200,000 that afternoon to spend on its good work for children in need. Congratulations to all!
Saturday and Sunday were, of course, devoted to enjoying the best Rugby Tournament in the World, the fabulous Hong Kong Sevens. This year the Penguins entered the South Stand fray on Saturday morning in the guise of the ‘SSBC’ - the South Stand Ballet Company, complete with very fetching tutus. Thanks for that, Craig.
Monday saw a parting of ways for the Tour Party, but not before Craig and a few of the other boys went out on a harbour cruise from the Central Ferry Terminal. All-in-all a truly memorable trip with a great bunch of lads (and Sue!), and made all the sweeter because, as I believe I may have mentioned once or twice... WE WON THE GFI HONG KONG FOOTBALL CLUB 10s!