Rwanda Silverbacks thrilled over debut at Hong Kong Tens
Although a baptism of fire awaits, Rwanda relish golden opportunity to move up to the next level
Rwanda will break new boundaries at the GFI HKFC Tens by becoming the first national team to appear at the prelude to the Hong Kong Sevens. But they will face a baptism of fire with a star-studded field invited for the popular tournament in March.
For the first time in the 28-year history of the tournament, a national team will take part alongside the traditional select outfits, which this year includes defending champions BGC Asia-Pacific All Stars, formerly known as the Asia-Pacific Barbarians.
And being up against star quality - last year's champion outfit included All Blacks Mils Muliaina and Justin Marshall, as well as US captain Todd Clever - the Rwandan Silverbacks would find the going hard, Chris Harker, chairman of the organising committee, said.
"This is the first time we have invited a national team and it will be a step up for them," Harker said.
"They won't be able to mix it with the stronger teams, but they will do well in the lower half of the draw, which features both the Bowl and Shield competitions."
Rwanda have appeared for the last three years at the Kowloon Tens RugbyFest where they have made a mark. The 16-team HKFC Tens on March 20-21 will be a massive challenge for a country where rugby is still in its teething stage.
"Several years ago they came to us looking for a spot, but we felt [the competition was] too strong for them. They approached us again last year and thought they'd learnt enough to be competitive."
Senior Rwandan player Benjamin Akami Makombe said the Silverbacks - named after the country's famous mountain gorillas and who will be guided by former Scotland coach Frank Hadden - were looking forward to the challenge.
"We feel it is time to move up to the next level if we want to keep improving and further raise the profile of Rwandan rugby. Playing at the Tens will be a huge challenge and it will give us an insight into the standards required to compete on that stage," said Makombe.
"We know the Tens is an extremely popular tournament with a waiting list of teams wishing to be involved, so we owe a big thank you to Hong Kong Football Club for inviting us to participate. We will be training hard and preparing as thoroughly as possible so that we can represent Rwanda with pride."
Defending champions BGC Asia-Pacific All Stars will headline the 16 entries, which will also include 2012 runners-up the New Zealand Legends, plus semi-finalists the HSBC Penguins and ULR Samurai International - two of the world's most famous touring teams - along with Pyrenees of France and the Scottish Barbarians.
Fijian champions Nadroga and top Malaysian club Cobra will also be among the contenders, as they both make their tournament debuts in the world's leading 10-a-side rugby contest.
London-based Lloyd's RFC are also newcomers to the tournament, while former Plate finalists Wild Titans of Germany are returning to the event after competing for three straight years from 2009.
Reigning Bowl champions Australian Country Invitational, compatriots Lloyd McDermott Warriors, Irish Vikings, A-Trade Overseas Old Boys and hosts Newedge Club, winners of the Shield, all return from last year.