First day of Tens has it all for rugby fans
Tim McGann is sent off after altercation with BGC APB's Orene Ai'i as the defending champions find Country formidable
Bone-thudding challenges, fast-flowing rugby, an entertaining punch-up and a minor feel-good story, all for free - the GFI HKFC Tens was not a bad way to while away Wednesday for fans.
Last year's winners, the BGC APB All Stars, were put to a tough test in their final match, against Borrelli Walsh Australia Country - a hard-fought game became quite literally so when former IRB World Sevens Player of the Year Orene Ai'i seemed to stamp on Country's Tim McGann.
Former Waratahs and Australia Sevens flanker McGann took exception to this and decided to debate the point forcefully with Ai'i, who was happy to reply in kind. The referee, being half the size of both men, opted to observe proceedings from afar before sending-off McGann after a lengthy interval. That seemed harsh - Ai'i was later cited for his involvement - and McGann thought so, loudly expressing his sense of injustice from the sideline, and heading back for round two after the final whistle.
It would be traditional to say this marred a fine day's sport, but if anyone in the crowd was offended they were not showing it, and in fact it merely showed how serious the teams were.
It was harsh on Country, who had well-matched the APBs until the sending-off; to add insult to injury Ai'i set up both APB's tries, for USA international Todd Clever and highly-rated young Fijian Filipo Nakosi, who top-scored with six tries yesterday.
"They were great," said Clever referring to Country. "They got us out of our game plan, took it to us, were physical. After the red card, it turned out to be a good five minutes. We're going to go for it. It's a real privilege playing with these guys, with all the Samoans, Tongans, Fijians and Kiwis, and I'm proud to pull on the jersey."
Suspended McGann will get a rest for today's Cup quarter-finals and Ai'i could, too, after an early morning disciplinary hearing, as HSBC Penguins play top seeds APBs and Tradition YCAC face Country. The other quarters see Malaysian-based Cobra face Tag Heuer Eyewear Pyrenees, and ULR Samurai International facing Hill and Associates Scottish Barbarians.
Seventh seeds YCAC were the most impressive side on day one, a team packed with young Kiwi talent winning all three games by an aggregate of 109-7.
Captain Kane Hancy has never lost a match in three visits to this tournament, and is confident he can win his fourth title today with the pace of All Blacks sevens players Jack Wilson and Seta Tamanivalu deadly out wide. Both went over, as did Jed Brown, as YCAC upset second-seeded Penguins 21-7 to top pool B.
"Our game plan was just to be aggressive, hit them up front, get our runners going and then send it wide to our wingers like Jack and Seta," said Hancy. "It was pretty much the perfect day and, hopefully, it's the perfect day tomorrow.
"I want to keep that clean slate, but we'll see how we go. I'm confident, but there's four teams that can beat anyone and little mistakes or bad calls from the ref and you're buggered, you've seen it today, so we've got to be on top of our game."
Meanwhile, crowd favourites Rwanda had a minor victory scoring two tries in a 31-12 defeat to Country. Frank Hadden, the former Scotland coach who has taken charge of them for the tournament, hopes to build on yesterday's performance in the Bowl today.
"To be honest we've scored two tries more than I ever expected us to score," he said. "The real challenge will be for us to learn from today and … try to win a game tomorrow and that would be a massive achievement.
"They've loved the support of the crowd. They're not delighted to lose by these margins, of course they're not, they're proud people … but the gulf is so big it's a really tough ask for them."