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No Easy Games @ Hong Kong Tens

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There are no easy games anymore is the warning from veteran GFI HKFC Tens tournament director Craig Wootten to any team expecting an easy ride through this years 24-team field.

With less than a week to go until the start of another highly anticipated showpiece at Hong Kong Football Club, HKFC Sequins star Craig Wootten highlighted some of the match-ups to watch this year.

Top seeds and last years beaten Cup finalists Samurai, the David Campese led BGC Asia Pacific Barbarians, Frank Haddens HSBC Penguins and the always dangerous New Zealand Legends are all out to justify their seedings, but first must make sure they avoid early slip ups with dark horses dotted throughout the field.

Wootten, who played in the GFI HKFC Tens before moving behind the scenes over 15 years ago, has singled out Pool G opponents KIR Club Pyrenees and Wild Titans as potential banana skins. He also warned against underestimating tournament newcomers Niue Wanderers and the Lloyd McDermott Foundation.

You havent got the named Test players coming like Jeremy Guscott because of professionalism, but certainly you have got that next tier down of a large New Zealand and Pacific Island content who are every bit as good as them, said former centre Wootten, who recalls finishing second in the majority of games while representing Hong Kong Football Club at the GFI HKFC Tens.

Another side singled out by Wootten is the Irish Vikings, who this year boast former England Sevens and 15s international Henry Paul and ex-Gloucester star James Forrester along with a coterie of current and former Singapore internationals.

Every year it amazes me how competitive even the lowest ranked sides are. Gone are the days of taking it easy, the teams have full training schedules and are so competitive against even the big names. There are no easy games anymore. It gets harder every year.

The Philippe Carbonneau-led French raiders KIR Club Pyrenees have several recently retired professionals in their ranks and could provide a tricky quarter-final opponent for the second seeded HSBC Penguins on day two, although they must first deal with the Wild Titans, who have bolstered their squad which already contains a handful of German national team players with some South Pacific flair.

The dark horses for me are the Pyrenees boys, a few years ago they knocked off the Aliens in the pool games, added Wootten. They are playing with the Wild Titans which is the German rugby academy, who are on their third visit. Last year defensively they were superb and lost in the Cup semis to the Penguins by just three points, while this year they have been bolstered by a few Kiwis who should give them the attacking flair that you need in Tens.

Niue Wanderers have been handed the fifth seed with Wootten expecting a strong mix of strength and pace from the Pacific Islanders. Former Wallabies the Ella brothers, Mark, Gary and Glen, lead the Lloyd McDermott Foundation a team established to support the development of indigenous youth using sport.

The Lloyd McDermott Foundation are joined in Pool F by the BGC Asia Pacific Barbarians, who are coached by Australia legend Campese, and along with fellow Wallaby great Gregan, boast an all-star line-of current and past international captains and World Cup winners. Their sixth seeding has raised some eyebrows, but their cosmopolitan mix drawn from across the Asia Pacific region must prove they can all work in harmony on their inaugural outing.

On day one the big match up for people to see after they finish work is the David Campese Asia Pacific Baa Baas team against the Ella brothers, who will be coaching the Lloyd McDermott Foundation who will be very handy. Campo versus the Ellas is not a bad match up on day one, said Wootten.

The Penguins again look like a strong South Pacific side and their game against the HKRFU Chairmans X, which is the best of the rest of the guys who dont make the Hong Kong Sevens team but who want to keep their HSBC Asian 5 Nations hopes alive, should also be good. Thats the last game of the first day.

Scatterlings coached by Bobby Skinstad could be an unknown quantity, while the Irish Vikings with Henry Paul are a very strong experienced side and the Borneo Eagles won the Darwin Sevens, which is an impressive achievement given the quality of the Kiwi and Fijian sides which play there.

If the seedings work out, last years beaten Cup finalists Samurai will finally get their hands on the trophy which has so far eluded the globe-trotting invitational side, but there is a lot of rugby to be played over a highly anticipated two days at Hong Kong Football Club with no guarantees everything will go to plan.

The GFI HKFC Tens will be held at the Hong Kong Football Club (public, non-member entrance is through the Hong Kong Jockey Club Museum Entrance to Happy Valley) on Wednesday, 23 March and Thursday, 24 March 2011.

Entry is free on Wednesday and HK$100 on Thursday.

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