Phillipine Volcanoes erupt into HSBC Asian 5 Nations
22 April, 2012
|The Phillipines Matt Saunders goes over in the tackle of a Sri Lankan player. |
The Philippines Volcanoes continued their march up the Asian rugby ladder today in Manila, beating Sri Lanka 28-18 to propel themselves into the ranks of the top five teams in Asian rugby. Next season, the Volcanoes will become the eighth team to compete in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top 5 since the inception of the tournament in 2008.
In the 3rd/4th place play-off Chinese Taipei cruised past Singapore 49-31 in the highest scoring match of the tournament. The result sees Chinese Taipei, promoted to Division I this season as 2011 Division II champions, stay in Division I. Singapore becomes the first team with Top 5 experience to be relegated to the HSBC A5N Division II tournament in the history of the tournament.
The Philippines Volcanoes got off to a fiery start in the first half, jumping out to a 23-nil lead before Sri Lanka replied with their only points of the half, a penalty to fullback Rizah Mubarak, to enter the changing sheds at 23-3 down. It was a fitful start for Sri Lanka who seemed unable to get settled and kicked away the majority of their first half possession.
New Sri Lanka coach Phil Greening continues to make a positive impact on the team after being with the side for just five weeks. Greening’s adjustments at half-time saw the lions of Sri Lanka come roaring back in the second half. Sri Lanka scored 15 unanswered points through tries to Gayan Rathnayaka and tireless flanker Sumedha Malawana, closing the gap to just five points with 13 minutes remaining.
Sri Lanka was looking on pace to record a memorable comeback and book their return to the Top 5 next season after having been demoted in 2011, but burly Volcanoes centre Justin Coveney broke through the defence to score the final try of the match and put the Philippines instead into next year’s Top 5 at 28-18. The try set off raucous celebrations amongst the vociferous crowd of 4,000 in attendance for today’s final.
Flyhalf Oliver Saunders led the scoring today for the Volcanoes with 13 points in the first half from three penalties and two conversions. Captain Michael Letts added a try from the fullback position as did Joseph Matthews from the wing. Matthews was later sin-binned in the second half, helping ease Sri Lanka’s fight back into the match.
The three sets of brothers in the Volcanoes squad continued to set the pace for their teammates. The three sets of siblings, the Saunders, Matthews and Letts clans, had scored 56 of the team’s 71 points entering today’s match. Oliver Saunders’s 13 points and the tries from Michael Letts and Joe Matthews brought the familiar totals to 79 of the 99 points scored by the Volcanoes this week in Manila.
Philippines Coach Expo Mejia said, “Today was a win for the Filipino people. The people came out in numbers and the guys went out and won for their country. It was a beautiful thing.
“This team definitely has the talent to stay in the Top 5 next season. We need to work on our structures a bit more and make sure we have all of our players available but we have started something here in the Philippines and we plan to build on that,” said Mejia.
Sri Lanka coach Phil Greening commented on the result saying, “We are a young team and I think we showed a lot of character. The one thing we will take from this is that if we don’t execute things right in test rugby you get punished. It is about the small details and the small margins and we weren’t ready for that in the first half and that cost us but they’ll learn. With a 19-year old flyhalf in his first tests we still managed to put the Philippines under a lot of pressure.
“We have only had them for four weeks but we have had a taste of being so close now and we will go back to Sri Lanka and take the next step forward rather than a step back,” concluded Greening.
In the 3rd/4th place play-off promoted 2012 Division II champions Chinese Taipei scored an emphatic victory over Singapore, the second seeds in this year’s Division I competition, 49-31, to retain their Division I spot and their chance for qualification for Rugby World Cup 2015.
Singapore’s Rugby World Cup 2015 dream has come to an early end after today’s loss and their relegation to Division II in 2013. It is the first time in the five years of the event that Singapore has been outside of the Top 5 or Division I and also marks the first time a team with Top 5 experience has been relegated to Division II.