Fijian sevens stars sparkle for UBB Gavekal in victory over favoured Samurai at Tens
The four players given permission by coach Gareth Baber to take part in the HKFC tournament make a stunning impact
Four contracted Fiji Sevens players helped UBB Gavekal stun second seeds Mourant Ozannes Samurai International 14-5 and ultimately top pool B.
UBB are seeded 11th after finishing in the bottom eight of the 16-team tournament in their first two appearances, but this year’s squad are boosted by the addition of Fijian playmaker Lemeki Tulele and fellow backs Josua Vici, Samu Bale and Glen Cakautini.
Captain Aorangi Stokes – playing in the Tens for the first time – was full of praise for the Fijian quartet and the Kiwi flanker wasn’t surprised at the day-defining win over Samurai, runners-up in 2010, 2013 and 2016.
“It definitely helps having four Fiji sevens players in the squad. They’re the X factor. Give them a bit of space and they’re magic, most definitely,” said Stokes.
“The result against Samurai wasn’t really a surprise to me. We knew that if we stuck to our structures and held the ball, we’d do well. We backed our defence, really.”
Fiji Sevens boss Gareth Baber was happy to supply the players at the request of one of his former Hong Kong players, Jean-Baptiste Aldige, who has managed UBB for their three appearances in the GFI HKFC 10s.
“I think they’re definitely one of the teams capable of winning, along with the other big sides like Penguins and Asia Pacific Dragons,” said Baber, who was among a lively crowd at Hong Kong Football Club.
“The Fijian players did really well and I’m happy for them to play in tournaments like this to stay match fit. One or two may even be required in the Hong Kong Sevens if there are injuries or could force themselves into the Singapore Sevens squad.”
UBB beat seventh seeds Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles 19-0 and CRFA Gladiators of China 52-7 to top pool B, while Samurai later lost 7-0 to Scottish Exiles so will compete in the lower-tier Bowl quarter-finals on Thursday.
UBB face a Cup quarter-final against Projecx Waterboys, who finished second in pool A behind defending champions Penguin International.
Long-time New Zealand Sevens star Joe Webber marked his first competitive match since the Rio Olympics with the first try – and first yellow card – of the tournament in Penguins’ 36-0 win over Devil’s Advocate Silver Dragons. The team followed up with wins against Irish Vikings (19-5) and Projecx Waterboys (17-0).
“I’m stoked to be playing again. Luckily the shoulder held up and it was good to get the first match out of the way. It was a lucky try and I enjoyed the match,” said the 23-year-old Webber, who first played for New Zealand on the 2011-12 World Rugby Sevens Series.
Willie Walker is looking to continue his 100 per cent record in charge of the team after co-coaching the Penguins’ to victory last year with Scott Waldrom, the current New Zealand Sevens boss.
“I’m definitely happy – I’m always happy with wins,” said Walker, who last played for the Penguins at the Tens in 2015.
“We started off slowly but we built into it nicely so that’s exactly what I’m looking for going into tomorrow.”
Cornal Hendricks, who has been frozen out of top-level rugby since being diagnosed with a heart condition, was also in rampant form with two tries in Hogan Lovells Asia Pacific Dragons’ opening 36-0 win over hosts Natixis HKFC.
Coached by former Springbok boss Heyneke Meyer, the three-time champions followed up with a hard-fought 12-5 win over young Australian side King’s College at UQ – sponsored by Strategic Equity Alliance – and a 29-7 victory over A-Trade Overseas Old Boys.
King’s College had earlier brought Overseas Old Boys down to earth, beating the 2016 Plate winners 19-0 and finishing second in Pool C to earn a place in the Cup quarter-finals for a second year.
Fourth seeds Tradition YCAC, runners-up to the APDs in 2014 and 2015, topped pool D with wins over GoCloudWifi East Africans (27-0), Kir Club Pyrenees (28-0) and Classic Wallabies (10-7).
The ninth-seeded Pyrenees had earlier upset the fifth-seeded Classic Wallabies 12-5 in a clash of some major stars. Pyrenees captain Damien Traille, France’s sixth-most capped player, scored his team’s first try as the French side edged Justin Harrison’s squad of former Australia internationals and Super Rugby stars, and Australia Sevens players.
However, the Australians were happier after a 41-5 trouncing of the East Africans. Wendell Sailor, who played with Harrison in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final against England, was a big draw as the big-framed winger played rugby union for the first time since 2006, although his rugby league career extended through 2010.
“It has been 11 years as 2006 was my last game [of union]. It’s been good; it’s been different. When I was in union, I played 15s and also some sevens early on, but this format is not too short and not too long, so I’ve enjoyed today,” said the big-framed Sailor, whose teammates include former Wallabies Morgan Turinui, Stephen Hoiles and Luke Burgess.
“In the second game, we didn’t make so many mistakes and held the ball better and got to enjoy the ball. You also get to save your oxygen. The Pyrenees were really good in contact and the Africans were really good athletes, but they turned over a lot of ball.
“I’m really happy to be here after Hoilesy asked me. We recently lost Dan Vickerman, which was tragic, so for me it’s about getting the boys back together and just instilling in the next generations about looking after one another and being a brotherhood.”