Aliens prepared to work harder for third straight Tens crown
Aliens coach Willie Los'e says his team will have to hit the ground running when they begin the defence of their title in the GFI Hong Kong Tens 2006 today.
The tournament's new format means teams play three pool matches on the first day instead of two and the contests at the Hong Kong Football Club are expected to be more intense than usual.
'Gone are the days when you could have a fairly easy first day and drift into it, now it's pretty much full-on from the start,' said Los'e. 'Playing the extra game on the first day is going to mean careful management of the players to make sure that everyone gets a chance to start.
'We've got a mostly new team with nine debutants, so it's going to be difficult - and the quality of the opposition makes it even more difficult. We're defending champions and we always like coming back.
'The Tens is a special tournament - all the players know they can come here and have a good time but when it's time to put the boots on, you know you're going to get a good workout both days.'
Aliens, champions for the past two years, are once again top seeds. The line-up contains some of New Zealand's brightest young talents, including loose forward James Maher and utility back Tu Umaga-Marshall, the nephew of recently retired All Blacks captain Tana Umaga.
Both players are members of New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens's extended training squad.
'James is agile, strong and very fast for a big man,' explained Los'e. 'Tu is a very exciting player. He was playing basketball until a couple of years ago but he got into rugby and straightaway Gordon Tietjens spotted him and put him into his extended squad.
'Someone else to watch will be a kid we've brought with us called Lewis Marshall. He's 17, he's still at school and this is his first time out of New Zealand. He's a name for the future.'
Second seeds New Zealand Metro have a mostly young squad blended with some more established figures such as former All Blacks centre Scott McLeod, ex-Highlanders Super 12 player Samiu Vahafalou and Tens regular Clayton McMillan, a member of Metro's winning team in 2003.
'We've got a good combination of potential talent and experience,' said Metro manager Barry Gallagher, whose team narrowly lost a classic semi-final against Aliens 12 months ago.
'We know there are some very good teams, so we won't be going in over-confident, but we're really looking forward to it. It's a great tens tournament - very well organised, played in a great venue and with strong teams, that's why we keep coming back.'
HSBC New Zealand Legends are third seeds for the tournament and captain Nick Fisher cannot wait to get started.
'It's my third year here and it's great to be involved again,' he said. 'Tens is such a good form of rugby. Sevens is really a backs game whereas forwards like myself can enjoy tens and we have a bit more space to move.'
Kiwi teams have won the past five editions of the Tens but the Australian-flavoured PricewaterhouseCoopers International Panthers will be out to end New Zealand's domination. The Panthers have named five ex-Wallabies - including 1999 Rugby World Cup winners Joe Roff, Toutai Kefu and Matt Cockbain - and are the fourth seeds.
Sixteen teams are taking part in the tournament, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
HONG KONG TENS POOLS
Pool A: Aliens, Irish Vikings, DeA Tigers, Acorns.
Pool B: NZ Metro, Tamariva, China Agricultural University, Asian Cavaliers.
Pool C: NZ Legends, Cardiff University, Overseas Old Boys, CBRE Club.
Pool D: International Panthers, HK Barbarians, Black Watch, PLA.