Article by Graeme Inglis (Tour Manager)
For the 11th straight year we Penguins made our annual waddle to the GFI Hong Kong Tens at the Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC). This year we had the added pressure of being defending champions and No. 1 seed (after winning the overtime epic against Samurai 12 months earlier). Scott Waldron, our forwards coach from 2016, has since taken up a New Zealand 7s coaching role, so Willie Walker (our backs coach from last year) was joined this time by Steve Hill, a long time Penguin and Director of Rugby at Richmond. On paper we had a strong, well balanced and eclectic squad, with 10 Kiwis, 2 Englishman, 2 Americans, a Canadian and a Scotsman. It was also great to welcome back three of last year’s winning team.
The majority of the squad arrived on Saturday (1st April) to maximise our preparation time. That evening we took the well-trodden path to the always popular American Peking Restaurant in Wan Chai for a good feed and a spot of team bonding. The lads then wandered off into the night to explore the sights of Hong Kong.
On Sunday after a slow start, we headed over to the mainland to King George V School for our first training session. This was the boys’ first chance to work together and more importantly get a taste of the Hong Kong conditions for the first time. "Rusty" seemed to be the word of the day, but only to be expected in the first run out. On Sunday evening we took the short walk from the hotel to the HKFC for a bite to eat in the Sportsman’s Bar, and to show those new to Hong Kong the spectacular tournament venue for the first time.
On Monday morning we managed to get our first training session on the main HKFC pitch. At the start of the session the coaches named Johan Bardoul and Shalom Suniula as our co-captains for the week. Our morning run out was followed by a pool recovery session and lunch at the club.
Later that afternoon, we jumped on the bus again and headed to Sandy Bay. Following a Captains Run, we spent the rest of the afternoon coaching Hong Kong’s next generation of rugby superstars, the Sandy Bay RFC Mini Section (around 100 kids). As always we arrived laden with Penguins T-shirts to pass out to the kids at the end of the session, which topped off a cracking afternoon. Thanks again to Sunil Gidumal for organising, and for his hospitality.
Our Tuesday morning training session allowed us to iron out any last minute issues and following our “best session of the week” the coaches decided to give the squad the afternoon off. Before that however, we were lucky enough to have the New Zealand legend Sean Fitzpatrick present the playing jerseys for the following day.
After a relaxing afternoon, we had a team dinner at The Jockey pub, before the boys hit the hay in anticipation of our first game at 10am the following morning!
First up on day one of the tournament was the Silver Dragons from Shanghai. The Dragons, sporting their strongest team ever in Hong Kong (they went on to win the Shield for the first time) proved to be a stern test and they held us scoreless for much of the first half. However, after weathering the initial storm, things began to click for the Penguins and following some strong build up work, Joe Webber was the first Penguin to dot down. The second half went more to plan and we managed to open up a sizeable lead by the end of the game with tries by Jesse Parete, Will Warden, Teddy Stanaway, Lalaki Foketi and Gafa Siu. 36-0 job done.
Our second pool game was against the Irish Vikings, a regular invitational side to the Hong Kong Tens. The Vikings proved a step up from the first game, and we did not have things all our own way. In the end some individual class proved to be the difference, as we eventually notched up a reasonably comfortable 19-5 win. The ‘Show and Go’ from front rower Tau Koloamatangi for his score, was a particular highlight. Despite the final score this was a frustrating and scrappy game with too many basic errors, but in hindsight, it was probably the wakeup call the boys needed.
Game 3 on Day 1 was against the ProjecX Waterboys, a select side from the top clubs in Scotland. Once again, the standard was a notch up from the previous games, and in a very tight first half the score remained 0-0. The theme of the half time team talk focussed on ‘patience’ and ‘accuracy’, which seemed to work as we managed to put three unanswered tries (by Lalakai Foketi, Tone Ng Shui and Lewis Ormond) past them in the second half, the last of which must have been a contender for try of tournament. Final Score 17-0. So, day one over and mission complete - it may not have been pretty at times, but the boys dug deep when it mattered and got the job done.
Following our final game of the day, the squad joined the Penguins’ supporters for the annual Hong Kong Penguin Dinner. This was a good chance for the lads to relax following a tough day. With an attendance of over 60 people (including several of the Penguins Board Members) this was the best attended Hong Kong dinner in recent years and it was great to see so many supports there to cheer on the team. Bill Calcraft took the opportunity to provide us all with an update on the various activities that the Penguins and the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy have been up to over the past 12 months. A fine night was had by all, but it was another early night for the team in preparation of day two.
Talking of the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy, we were joined in during the week by two Penguin coaches, Neil Young and Nick Man, who spent the week, running or participating in a range of coaching activities across Hong Kong. Neil also doubled as our social media guru for the week (#goodjobyoungy).
So to the business end of the tournament. First up the Scottish Exiles in the quarter final! The Exiles who had made it out of a tough pool the previous day, struggled to live with the Penguins’ intensity and physicality, and despite some early resistance, the Penguins notched up a comfortable 29-0 win.
On to the semi-finals and Yokohama Country and Athletics Club (Tradition - YCAC) (who we met at the same stage last year) who had topped the ‘Pool of Death’ on Day 1, lay in wait. From the off, this was a tough uncompromising game with two strong defences. Mid-way through the first half YCAC found a hole out wide and snuck in. Crucially they were unsuccessful with the conversion. The rest of the game followed a similar pattern, with brutal defence from both sides. With just 2 minutes on the clock it was still 5-0 and we were camped in our own half. We needed something special! Enter, Callum Sirker and his jet shoes! Callum, a member of the England 7s squad, had been itching to open up all tournament but had never really been given the ball in any space to show us what he could do. Luckily for us that chance came late on in the semi-final. A beautiful flick pass from Lewis Ormond gave Callum the open track he needed allowing him to pin his ears back and outstrip the covering defence. The conversion from in front of the posts made it 7-5. A nervous last couple of minutes and some big defence saw us hold on. We were one step away from retaining our crown!
Time for the Final! Our opponents this year were the tournament’s surprise package, UBB Gavekal, representing Top 14 club Union Bordeaux-Begles. The Gavekal side was made up of players from the recently crowned Hong Kong Champions, Valley RFC, four of the wider Fiji 7’s squad and a couple of Frenchmen from UBB. Seeded eleventh, Gavekal had surprised everybody on day one by defeating Samurai and had made it through a tough semi against three time winners the Asia Pacific Dragons (this year coached by the ex-Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer).
From the outset it was clear that we again had two evenly matched sides, with both sides unable to create any spare. Even their fleet footed Fijians were struggling to open up the gaps they had done so with such ease earlier in the tournament. Once again it was scoreless at half time, with the crowd on the edge of their seats (with flashbacks to last year’s final and the 34 minute stalemate). However, not long into the second half, Gavekal managed to engineer a gap and slipped through to score under the posts. With time running out we found ourselves on the back foot again. Some patient work and good ball retention gave us the opportunity we needed. Still struggling to find holes, Kuki Moala (aka the ‘Kuki Monster’), decided to take matter into his own hands and took the direct route, smashing through several of the opposition to score under the posts. Conversion over - all square. The tension built as the clock ran down and only some last gasp defence kept them from scoring a second. The commitment from the Penguins was unstinting and the defence uncompromising. A knock on close to our own line (now deep into injury time) gave them the opportunity they needed. To everybody’s surprise from the ensuing scrum, their standoff dropped back into the pocket and popped over a drop goal. Game Over 10-7. Whilst a sickening way to lose, credit to Gavekal for their quick thinking, in a final that could have gone either way.
With the business end of the week now out the way it was time for some fun, well for most of us. On Thursday evening Callum Sirker and Niama Fuala’au got the call up from the England and USA 7’s team coaches to join their respective squads for the weekend.
Following the tournament the Coaches, Management and Supporters selected Lewis Ormond for the John Grove ‘Best and Fairest’ award. Well done Lewis!
On Friday after the tournament the Penguins were once again the main attraction at the Christina Noble Children Foundation Charity Ladies Long Lunch. This year the lunch raised HK$1.4 million (£140k). Well done to Angie and Jodie from CNCF who were in charge of the LLL for the first time.
The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing and taking in the HSBC 7s at the National Stadium. On the Sunday, good news came through for Tone Ng Shui, Lewis Ormond, Joe Webber and Teddy Stanaway, who were all called up to the New Zealand 7s squad for the HSBC Singapore 7s the following week.
As always we have lots of people to thank for making the week possible, including our club sponsors, Tsunami Sports, Grove Industries, and Synapse Physiotherapy. We were also lucky enough to have a tournament sponsor, Latham & Watkins the renowned legal firm, while the success of the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy continues to grow with the ongoing support of HSBC. All your support is very much appreciated.
We would also like to say a big thank you to our ‘Sponsor a Day’ sponsors, listed below;
Day 1 - Enzo Paolini
Day 2 - Dudley Ankerson
Day 3 - Alan Black & Andy Morris
Day 4 - Iain MacLeod
Day 5 - Peter Duncan
Day 6 - David F Hughes
Day 7 - Camille Jojo
Day 8 - Ian Linderman
Day 9 - David Hodgkinson
Day 10 - Guy Woodford & Chris Kneller
So another Hong Kong 10s gone in a puff of smoke. As tour manager it was a pleasure to look after this group of men for the week, and I would like to thank them personally for the effort they all put in. The Penguins wish them all luck for their future rugby careers and ask that they all stay in touch and continue to spread the gospel of the Penguin International Rugby Football Club.
Back row (from Left): Steve Hill (Coach), Willie Walker (Coach), Deano Herewini (HK Liaison), Johan Bardoul Co-Captain (Yamaha, Bay of Plenty, Waikato Chiefs), Teddy Stanaway (Bay of Plenty 7s & XVs, NZ 7s) Eric Howard (Westshore RFC, Ontario, Canada 7s & XVs), Jesse Parete (Bay of Plenty, Taranaki), Hapakuki Moala-Liava'a (Nth Harbour XVs & 7s, Blues, NZ U20s), Tone Ng Shiu (Tasman XVs & 7s, NZ 7s), Will Warden (Richmond, England Students), Graeme Inglis (Manager), David Gorrie (Manager), Su Olovsson (Masseur), Craig Brown (CEO).
Front Row (from Left): Naima Fuala’au (Life West Gladiators, USA U20 & 7s), Lewis Ormond (Taranaki 7s & XVs, NZ 7s), Shalom Suniula - Co-Captain (USA 7s & XVs), Callum Sirker (England 7s), Joe Webber (Waikato XVs & 7s, NZ 7s), Russell Weir (Rosslyn Park, London Scottish, Scotland 7s), Gafa Sua (Auckland, Counties-Manukau, NZ Schools), Tau Koloamatangi (Valley, Waikato, NZ U20), Lalakai Foketi (Bay of Plenty XVs & 7s, Melbourne Rebels, Australia U20).
Missing: Marc Daniels (Physio), Neil Young (HSBC Penguin Academy Coach), Nick Man (HSBC Penguin Academy Coach).