An experienced Mourant Fiji Army squad will make their eagerly awaited tournament debut at the 34th edition of the GFI HKFC 10s, which will be held at Hong Kong Football Club from April 3-4, the Wednesday and Thursday before the Hong Kong Sevens.
The Fijians are expected to be among this year’s top contenders as Biarritz Gavekal – formerly UBB Gavekal – bid for a third successive Cup title. The tournament has also been boosted by the return of three-time champions Asia Pacific Dragons (APDs) after a year’s absence.
Isake ‘Ice’ Katonibau has helped Fiji win the last four Hong Kong Sevens titles (2015-2018), but this year will captain Mourant Fiji Army, whose provisional squad includes 2016 Olympic gold medallist Apisai Domolailai.
Katonibau admits the team has high expectations for the tournament and is looking forward to his return to the city. Fiji Army are also the reigning champions in the International Defence Rugby Competition after beating the British Army 30-10 in the 2015 final in London, and will defend their title in Japan this year.
“We are all really excited to play in the GFI HKFC 10s,” he said. “A lot of the guys have heard about the tournament and have already played in the Hong Kong Sevens. We know it’s a very high standard of rugby and we are aiming for the Cup.”
Jope Tuikabe, a 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens winner in Hong Kong with the likes of Waisale Serevi and Marika Vunibaka, will coach the squad, which is expected to feature many recent and current Fiji Sevens and 15s players.
Paul Christopher, Mourant’s Hong Kong Managing Partner, said: “This year’s tournament looks set to reach a new level in terms of the quality of teams participating. We are honoured to be sponsoring Fiji Army’s debut.
“As a firm, we have a track record of supporting sports like rugby that focus on values important to us – teamwork, collaboration, well-being and sportsmanship. We know Fiji Army will bring these attributes to Hong Kong along with the creativity and flair for which Fijian players are renowned.
“Mourant Fiji Army are an exciting prospect, so sports enthusiasts will be keen to see how they progress. There is also the potential prospect of a unique double – Mourant Fiji Army winning the GFI HKFC 10s and Fiji winning the Hong Kong Sevens.”
Kerry Hotel will be an official sponsor of the team and play host to the tournament newcomers, along with all of this year’s Hong Kong Sevens teams – including Fiji.
Nicholas Smith, General Manager of Kerry Hotel Hong Kong, said: “Kerry Hotel is thrilled to join hands with Mourant and be an official sponsor of Fiji Army in the GFI HKFC 10s. We hope our support will help the team as they make their tournament debut and we look forward to hosting the squad and their supporters at Kerry Hotel.”
Fijians have starred in the last two editions of the GFI HKFC 10s, as Biarritz Gavekal won the Cup in 2016 with four Fiji Sevens backs and retained the title last year with five contracted Fiji Sevens players.
Along with Biarritz Gavekal, Mourant Fiji Army and the APDs, leading teams will include two-time champions Penguins and three-time finalists Tradition YCAC and Samurai International.
Kir Club Pyrenees of France, Scotland’s Projecx Waterboys and A-Trade Overseas Old Boys will also target silverware after finishing in the top half of the 16-team competition last April.
The star-studded Classic Wallabies will play for a third straight year, while Hong Kong-based Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles, USA’s Tiger Rugby, Irish Vikings, Hunter and Boo East Africans, Shanghai RFC: The Silver Dragons and hosts Natixis HKFC complete the 16-team line-up. On day two, the tournament eventually splits into four tiers – Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield – as all teams bid for silverware.
Inaugurated in 1986 to celebrate Hong Kong Football Club’s centenary, the GFI HKFC 10s has long attracted the game’s top players including seven All Blacks who won the 2015 Rugby World Cup – Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino (both 2003), Ben Smith, Charlie Faumuina (both 2008), Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane (both 2010) and Nehe Milner-Skudder (2013).
GFI has title sponsored the event since 2006, while other sponsors and suppliers for 2019 include Natixis (Gold Sponsor), AIA, Allied World, DHL, Q-Net and Taikoo Place (Silver Sponsors), CBRE, Latham and Watkins, and Markel (Bronze Sponsors), Kerry Hotel (Official Sponsor), Grolsch (Official Beer), and Samurai Sportswear (Official Apparel).
34th GFI HKFC 10s; April 3-4, 2019
Teams (selected highlights)
Biarritz Gavekal (Cup winners 2017, 2018)
Tradition YCAC (Cup runners-up 2014, 2015, 2018)
Penguins (Cup winners 2013, 2016)
Asia Pacific Dragons (Cup winners 2012, 2014, 2015)
Mourant Fiji Army (Debut 2019)
Samurai International (Cup runners-up 2010, 2013, 2016; Plate winners 2018)
A-Trade Overseas Old Boys (Plate winners 2016; Plate runners-up 2018)
Projecx Waterboys (Plate semis 2016, 2017, 2018)
Kir Club Pyrenees (Cup semis 2009; Plate winners 2017)
Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles (Cup semis 2015; Bowl winners 2018)
Hunter and Boo East Africans (Bowl runners-up 2018)
Classic Wallabies (Bowl semis 2017, 2018)
Tiger Rugby (Bowl semis 2018)
Natixis HKFC (Shield Winners 2012, 2016, 2018)
Irish Vikings (Bowl runners-up 2009, 2017; Shield winners 2010, 2013)
Shanghai RFC: The Silver Dragons (Shield winners 2017)