Penguins hope sevens skills can bring glory in Tens
Defending champions are banking on a combination of short-form specialists and strong 15s talent to help them retain title
Christian Lewis-Pratt believes he and England sevens colleagues Mark Odejobi and Callum Wilson can follow in the footsteps of their former teammates and help title-holders Penguins win the GFI HKFC Tens.
Second seeds Samurai, who lost to Penguins in last year's final, have England Sevens duo Chris Cracknell and winger Mat Turner in their line-up, along with Ben Gollings, the all-time top scorer on the HSBC Sevens World Series and a four-time Hong Kong Sevens winner.
Tana Umaga, head coach of the BGC Dragons for a third straight year, confirmed that Australia legend George Smith, who won his 111th cap for Australia last July, will play for the 2012 champions, seeded third.
Umaga, who is also overseeing the seventh-seeded Carinat Dragons, listed giant Wallaby flanker Radike Samo, "Samoan Bulldozer" Alesana Tuilagi, Fiji legend Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Tonga captain Nili Latu and Fiji Sevens duo Jasa Veremalua and Leo Naikasau in his first-team squad.
Tonga flanker Hale T. Pole, who played in the 2007 World Cup, and George Stowers, who played at the 2011 World Cup after a decade representing Samoa, are two of the experienced heads selected in the Carinat Dragons line-up.
Lewis-Pratt, the fifth-highest points scorer on last season's Sevens World Series, believes the inclusion of sevens specialists alongside experienced 15s players could again prove a winning formula for Penguins, after England duo Chris Brightwell and James Lightfoot-Brown played key roles in the team's victory last year.
"Chris and James were shocked by how good the standard was," said the 23-year-old fly half, who is joined by fellow back Wilson, a powerful wing, and Odejobi, a former winger converted to a forward.
"Hopefully as a group, the three of us can bring something to the team. Obviously, we have experience of playing at a fast, high-tempo level, and hopefully fitness wise and our game experience will help. We've got a lot of class 15s players in the mix, so hopefully we can help them," Lewis-Pratt said.
"The two boys with me are pretty physical and they don't often get to be as physical as they want to be in a game of sevens, because it's so wide and with such open spaces, so I think they're looking forward to a slightly more compact side of the game."
Lewis-Pratt said two-time finalists Samurai and the star-studded Dragons will be among Penguins' main challengers for the Cup, along with the likes of fourth seeds Borneo Eagles.
"Samurai are one of the other teams to look out for. I've got a couple of my mates there and they've got a strong set-up," Lewis-Pratt said.
"Also, the Borneo Eagles team, they've got guys with Kiwi sevens experience in their ranks, and obviously there's a team full of all-stars to be wary of, so it's going to be a good competition."
Turner, the top try scorer on the 2011-12 Sevens World Series, will provide pace on the outside for Samurai, while his England sevens teammate Cracknell is part of a powerful pack that includes Northampton Saints trio Teimana Harrison and Rob Verbakel - both Kiwis - and young prop Danny Herriot.
Tradition YCAC, semi-finalists on their debut last year, are fifth seeds and will be orchestrated by playmaker Kane Hancy, player of the tournament three times after inspiring New Zealand Metro to victory in 2007, 2008 and Tradition Valley's success in 2011.
First-timers JML Iranz are the tournament's black-kitted dark horses after easily winning the Manila Tens for the second straight year.
The Tens offers free entry on Wednesday (11am-9pm), while Po Leung Kuk, the tournament's official charity, will receive all proceeds from the HK$100 entrance fee on Thursday (10.40am-8.30pm) and on-site donations.
Pool A: Penguins (1), East Hotel HK Scottish Exiles (8), Irish Vikings (12), Hong Kong Dragons (16). Pool B: Samurai (2), Carinat Dragons (7), Gavekal Mongrels (11), A-Trade Overseas Old Boys (15). Pool C: BGC Dragons (3), JML Iranz (6), Lloyd McDermott Warriors (10), Newedge Club (14). Pool D: Borneo Eagles (4), Tradition YCAC (5), Tag Heuer Eyewear Pyrenees (9), Devil's Own Wanderers (13).