Wounded Samurai continue cup quest at Hong Kong 10s

Side will try again to win the one title missing from their trophy cabinet at next year’s GFI HKFC 10s, with three-time champions Asia Pacific Dragons and two-time finalists Tradition YCAC also returning

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 1:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 9:54pm

Despite losing three finals in the past seven years, Samurai International have pledged to again try to win the GFI HKFC 10s when they compete at the tournament’s 32nd edition in April.

The UK-based invitational side will make an eighth successive appearance – and 11th in total – at Hong Kong Football Club, where The Penguins will defend the cup after beating Samurai 5-0 in this year’s final following a try in the second period of sudden death extra-time.

Three-time champions Asia Pacific Dragons and two-time finalists Tradition YCAC lost in the semi-finals this year and are also among the leading 13 teams from the 2016 competition who will compete in 2017.

Defending plate champions A-Trade Overseas Old Boys, Scottish Exiles, Projecx Waterboys, King’s College at UQ, 2016 bowl winners Kir Club Pyrenees, UBB Gavekal, Irish Vikings, GFI East Africans and hosts Natixis HKFC who won this year’s shield also return.

Samurai could be the sentimental favourites in April as the 10s is the only tournament the well travelled touring side have participated in that they haven’t won at least once.

After appearances in 2003, 2004 and 2007, Samurai first reached the final in 2010, losing 10-0 to seven-time champions Aliens.

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In 2013, Samurai were denied a late try by the touch judge before The Penguins counterattacked to score and win 21-14.

Samurai manager Terry Sands still believes his side should have been awarded what would have been a winning try, but said the extra-time defeat in 2016 was even more painful following an exhausting half-hour final described as “the hardest game I’ve ever played” by Penguins co-captain Antonio Kiri Kiri, an All Blacks Sevens forward.

The star-studded Samurai squad featured 2015 Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner, four England Sevens players, the Canada 15s captain and six New Zealanders, but injuries and call-ups to the Hong Kong Sevens took their toll and Sands was heartbroken to see the trophy remain out of reach yet again.

“Both 2013 and 2016 losses hurt. In 2013 we had a try disallowed that was later shown as being a good try and not in touch. That hurt us bad, but 2016 hurt us hardest,” said Sands, who founded Samurai International RFC in 1996 and is a former England Sevens team manager.

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“We lost John Brake before the semi-final as he was called up by England Sevens and then just before the kick-off for the cup final we also lost our MVP Cameron Cowell to England Sevens.

“We only had a squad of 13 players for two 12 minute halves and gave everything we had, but then had to endure extra-time. Maybe we’re destined never to win the HK10s. The GFI HKFC 10s is the only trophy missing in our cabinet and it’s getting harder to win every year.”

This year Sands’ side won the Super Sevens Series UK, the Bury sevens and Chester sevens in England, the Independence sevens in Nigeria and the Dublin sevens in Ireland.

“We have won several tournaments this year, but all are sevens, which is our speciality.

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“The only 10s we play is in Hong Kong. We are not 10s specialists and it is a very different game, but we have been close! We will be back in 2017 and of course we would love to add the GFI HKFC 10s trophy to our list of successes.”

Immediately after this year’s GFI HKFC 10s, Ebner was called up for USA for the Hong Kong Sevens and later played in the Olympics, while New Zealand-born Dan Temm went on to make his England debut on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai this month.

Renowned as the world’s best annual 10-a-side tournament, the GFI HKFC 10s has long attracted the game’s top players including seven of the New Zealand team who won the 2015 Rugby World Cup – Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Sam Cane and Charlie Faumuina.