31st March - 9th April
Following the recent announcement of our partnership with Turkish Airlines, we headed into the GFI Hong Kong Football Club 10’s for the first time as the ‘Turkish Airlines Penguins’. Whilst on the surface it may seem strange why one of the world’s leading airlines would want to sponsor a team named after a flightless bird, we are the most travelled sports club in the world, so perhaps not so strange after all! We look forward to working with Turkish Airlines to support rugby in Turkey, while they help us to Widen our World.
After losing in the final last year, everybody was keen to go one better this time round. We went in with high hopes having locked in our successful coaching partnership from 2016, Willie Walker and Scott Waldom, who was returning after a stint with the All Black Sevens. Also back was Antonio Kiri Kiri our cup winning captain from that year. The squad this year were all from the southern hemisphere with 13 players hailing from the land of the long white cloud and one player each from South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.
Day 1 on tour proved a relaxed start to the week. Most of the squad got in early on the Saturday morning so had time to take in the sights of Hong Kong, before heading out for our first team dinner. Unfortunately, our favourite Hong Kong restaurant, the American Peking has closed, but Dean Herewini our Hong Kong liaison, found us a great local spot where the Chinese banquet defeated even the hungriest of front rowers!
Day 2 on tour. After the fun and games of night one, it was down to business on Sunday morning with our first training session. This year we staying in the brand new Emperor Hotel, just round the corner from the HKFC so it was just a short walk to training. The first session went well with the management and coaches outlining their expectations for the week. Following a warm down by the pool and lunch at the Sportsman’s Bar, it was back to the hotel for some to R&R and to hand out this year’s kit. Once again the whole squad got a good stash of kit for the week, with thanks again to Tsunami Sports and Gove Industries. Andy Chambers from Tsunami mixed things up with a tiger stripe theme, which the boys all loved, but I am not sure the management team really carried it off!
Later that afternoon the backs and forwards split up to have separate technical sessions to work out some of the finer details (backs moves, line out calls, etc.), before we all headed out for another team dinner to Coyote in Wan Chai. The Mexican food went down a treat after a long day in the sunshine, but the frozen margaritas were strictly for management only!
Monday, Day 3 on tour and it was back to the HKFC for another training session. Following the session the captain and vice-captain were announced. In an effort to repeat the magic of 2016 Antonio Kiri Kiri was reinstated as captain and Trent Renata, on his first tour with the Penguins, was named vice-captain.
Later that afternoon we headed off to Sandy Bay, for a further training run and to deliver a coaching session for the youngsters of Sandy Bay Rugby Club. The session ended with the customary Penguin T-shirt give away and donuts. The front rowers were not happy when they found out that the donuts were for the kids only, but thankfully dinner was supplied for the team, so the crisis was averted. The whole trip to Sandy Bay was once again organised by long time Penguin supporter Sunil Gidumal, who did a cracking job as always.
Day 4 on tour. After a good session in the morning the team were given the afternoon off and another opportunity to explore Hong Kong. On Tuesday evening we all headed out for our final team dinner at the HKFC before an early night. Thanks again to John Grove for sponsoring the team dinner, much appreciated.
Day 5 on Tour - Game day! This year we were seeded No.2, and were pooled with the host club HKFC, The Irish Vikings (another invitational side), and the Projecx Waterboys, a club select from Scotland, and a team we know well having played them the two previous years. Once again, the top four seeds, last year’s winners UBB Gavekal, ourselves, Tradition YCAC and Samurai (this year sporting an all Fijian team) looked like they justified their seeding, all fielding sides capable of winning the tournament.
Game 1 v HKFC. Over the past couple of years we have traditionally been slow starters. Thankfully that was not the case this year, as we shot out to a 27 -0 lead by half time. The first Penguin over the white wash was our Argentine import, Facundo Gorrido, who showed his power by skittling several HKFC defenders on his way to the try line. The first try was closely followed by scores from Lewis Ormond, James Little, Scott Waldrom and Sailosi Vatubua. I hear you say, is Scott not the coach? Well yes, but a new rule this year meant that we were allowed 18 players on the Wednesday and only 16 on the Thursday. As a result both our coaches covered the bench on Wednesday, and both got a run. There was some debate in the lead up to the tournament as to whether the two reserve spots should go to present committee members Mr Bill Calcraft and Mr Vince Bramhall, but as there was nothing to choose between the four in terms of quality it came down to the flip of a coin!
The second half went less to plan and despite a further score from caption Antonio Kiri Kiri, HKFC fought back gallantly with two good tries of their own, ending the game 34-12 in favour of the Penguins.
Game 2 v Irish Vikings. This was the second year we had met the Vikings in the pool stage, and last year we really struggled against them. This time round I am pleased to say we had no such troubles and were convincing 50-0 winners. The boys kept the foot down for the whole game this time with five tries in the first half and four in the second. The scorers were, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Tamati Samuels, Trent Renata, and Facundo Gorrido (2), Sailosi Vatabula (3)
Game 3 v Projecx Waterboys. As I mentioned earlier we have played the Projecx Waterboys in the past two years and found them to be tough opposition on both occasions. This year was no exception. Again, we were quick out the blocks with two early ties, scored by Facundo Gorrido and James Little, who should join the circus with those juggling skills, all was going to plan. Some nice footwork and a turn of pace by their winger pulled one back for the Scots leaving it 12-7 at half time. The Waterboys came out fired up for the second half and their defence held strong. For the first time, mistakes began to creep into our game and after some shrewd tactical kicking we found ourselves defending on our own 5-yard line late in the game. A Munster-esque catch and drive from the Scotsmen levelled the scores to 12 a piece with the kick to come. Thankfully for us their conversion drifted wide and the game finished as a draw. Pool stages over and despite the scare towards the end of the day, we had achieved our goal by finishing top of our pool by virtue of better points difference over the Waterboys.
Rugby over for the day it was time for the annual Penguins Hong Kong Dinner. Again, we had good numbers for dinner with strong representations from our YCAC supporters and the Aussie crew up from Manly and its always great to see a bunch of Aussies supporting a bunch of Kiwis! We were also joined by several club sponsors, committee members and club members. The Penguins are quite unique amongst the various touring and invitational sides in Hong Kong in that we always have a sizable travelling support, which the players always really appreciate.
At the dinner, 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 twelve months. A fine night was had by all, but it was another early night for the team in preparation for the quarter finals.
Talking of the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy, we were joined during the week by two Penguin coaches, Claire Cruikshank and Bruce Ruthven, who spent the week, running or participating in a range of coaching activities across Hong Kong.
Day 6 on Tour, on to the quarter finals. This year we faced the Over Seas Old Boys (OSOB), another invitational side. It quickly became apparent that we had two equality matched sides, with the intensity ramping up a notch from the previous day. Both teams managed to cancel each other out for most of the first half and we went in at half time scoreless. Shortly into the second half some good footwork by Tamati Samuals unlocked the OSOB defence and he went in under the posts 7-0. This score was closely followed by a second try by Facundo Gorrido again showing his strength by breaking several tackles on his way to the try line. 14-0 Penguins, semi-finals here we come!
For the 4th year in a row we faced Tradition YCAC at semi-final stage. The first half was a finely balanced affair with both sides showing strong defence. The turning point of the half came when Facundo Gorrido was yellow carded for not releasing (deemed a professional foul) and was sent to the sin bin. YCAC immediately made the most of the numerical advantage, using an overlap out wide to score in the corner. Half time 0-5. With the second half underway and with us back up to a full complement of players on the pitch, we began to gain some ascendancy. After some good ball retention over several phases, James Little spotted a mismatch in the midfield and outpaced one of their front rowers before drawing the last defender and passing inside to vice caption Trent Reneta to go in under the sticks. Conversion successful and it was 7-5, with 2 minutes to play. It then looked like we had gone further ahead shorty after when Lewis Ormond found a gap in the YCAC defence and went over to score, but the referee disallowed the try due to an off the ball incident, so the score remained 7-5. Coincidentally we beat YCAC by the same score line last year and with time running out it looked like history might be repeated. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, as an audacious dummy by their scrum half opened a huge hole in our defence, which allowed him to run in from half way, 7-10. With only seconds left on the clock we had one final opportunity to score, but some excellent defensive work from YCAC forced a turnover which they kicked to touch. Final Score 10-7. Gutted!
YCAC went on to lose the final (24-17) to last year’s winner UBB Gavekal, in a close final.
With the rugby out the way it was time to make the most of what Hong Kong has to offer during 7s week. On Friday the ladies from the Christina Noble Foundation were delighted to welcome back the Penguins to help at their Ladies Long Lunch. This year the lunch raised HKD850,000 taking the total amount achieved in 9 years to over 9 million HKD! We look forward to supporting the ladies again next year at their 10th anniversary lunch.
The whole squad then attended the Hong Kong 7s over the weekend and watched an incredible Fijian team lift the trophy, much to the delight of our own Fijian Sailosi Vatabula.
Our week was topped off with a boat trip and lunch at Lamma Island on the Monday where a number of the players and supporters got to relax and hang out. Thanks again to Keith and Judy Knowles for their hospitality.
As always we have lots of people to thank for making the week possible, including our headline sponsor Turkish Airlines, and our other long standing club sponsors; Tsunami Sports, Grove Industries and Synapse Physiotherapy. Thanks also again to Latham & Watkins, who were our local sponsors for a second year. All your support is very much appreciated.
We would also like to thank HSBC for their continued support in sponsoring the HSBC Penguin Coaching Academy, which continues to go from strength to strength.
We would also like to say a big thank you to our ‘Sponsor a Day a Tour’ sponsors, listed below;
Day 1 Tom & Penny Wacker
Day 2 Giles Woodgate
Day 3 Adrian Green Builders
Day 4 Vincent Bramhall
Day 5 Peter Duncan
Day 5 (Medical) Ian Lindeman
Day 6 Paul Giles
Day 6 (Kit) Bill Calcraft
Day 7 David and Stephanie-Anne Harris
Day 8 Chris Buttery
Day 9 Alan Black and Andy Morris
Day 10 Keith Knowles and James Watson
Despite not achieving our main goal of the week to win the Bill Burgess cup, players, management and supporters had an fantastic week and as always made lots of new friends in the process.
I have had the pleasure of managing the Penguins in Hong Kong a few years now and it is always fantastic to see so many of our players go on to do great things in the game. I wish the latest crop of Hong Kong Penguins all the best in their respective rugby careers and hope to see many of them back in a Penguins jersey at some stage in the future. Please keep in touch.