To cries of “Sige na!” the Philippines will take the field at Rizal Memorial Stadium on Sunday night ready to take this fledgling Rugby nation to the next level. Nothing less than victory against Singapore will satisfy the home support or this ambitious and talented team *(Rugby World Cup 2015).
Having only become an IRB Member in late 2008, the Philippines’ rise through the ranks in Asia has been nothing short of astonishing. Winning promotion through the divisions of the HSBC Asian Five Nations (A5N) became routine and, indeed, statistically the Volcanoes are the most successful team in the history of the competition apart from perennial champions Japan.
“It just goes to show that every team has a well-defined pathway towards the top,” said Philippines team manager Matt Cullen, who took a break from marking the lines on the pitch and erecting the goal posts to talk to media.
These matches are the first Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers in the Asia Region and IRB Council Member Koji Tokumasu will be in the crowd to offer official IRB support for the series. Also in attendance will be the RWC trophy itself, the iconic Webb Ellis Cup.
While there is one direct place available at England 2015 via the Asia qualification process for the winners of the 2014 HSBC Asian Five Nations, there is a second bite of the cherry for the runners-up who will move on to the Repechage. Should an Asian team progress via this pathway to RWC 2015 it will be the first time two representatives from the region have competed at a Rugby World Cup.
“It is great for developing Unions to know they are part of the Rugby World Cup. We only joined the IRB recently and within a space of three years we are now competing on the international stage and part of the RWC qualification structure. It’s phenomenal really,” said Cullen.
“The A5N and the IRB are bringing Rugby to the Philippines in a big way and with these matches being televised all over the country, it is a great advertisement for the sport,” said Cullen.
While it’s one thing to progress through the lower divisions, Cullen has noticed the standard has really stepped up now they are in Division 1. Last year’s defeat away to Korea, while disappointing, showed the team what they must do in order to reach Asia’s elite Top Five.
“We learned a lot from that defeat. We made a lot of errors in that game and the players know that. The good thing is that if we cut out the errors and concentrate on doing the basics well, we will be very competitive this week. It helps that we have a good player-retention rate – about 90 per cent of last year’s team are still with us.
“Home advantage is huge for us. We have been playing away from home for the past three years so to welcome these other teams to Manila is a great honour for us. I think this division is very competitive. Having come down from the Top Five last year, Sri Lanka are rightly ranked number one but we believe we can win this tournament and I’m sure Singapore and Chinese Taipei believe that as well.
“For the fans and the television viewers, we’re hoping that the final game of the tournament (Philippines v Sri Lanka on Saturday 21 April) will be the decider but we have a lot of work to do before then to make sure that is the case.”
For the IRB this tournament represents the early stages of a process that involves 80 teams, 184 matches and around 3,000 players all over the globe. With eight places at RWC 2015 in England up for grabs, each of those teams has the opportunity to take to the biggest stage in the Game.
IRB Regional General Manager Asia Jarrad Gallagher said: “Asia is a Region of enormous potential and with RWC 2019 coming here, it is an incredibly exciting time for the Game. Roughly 60 per cent of the world’s youths live in Asia so we are tapping into that. Over the past four years, we have seen an 18 per cent increase in playing numbers and we believe that growth will continue.”
“The IRB, working in partnership with ARFU, is investing more than GBP 9 million in Asia between 2009-2012 and is committed to ensuring that more men, women and children have the opportunity to experience and engage with the sport as the region prepares to host its first Rugby World Cup when Japan welcomes the world in 2019.”
For more information, including quotes from the other three teams go to www.rugbyworldcup.com.
HSBC Asian Five Nations Division 1, April 15-21, Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila (Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier)
Sunday April 15: 1700 Sri Lanka v Chinese Taipei, 1900 Philippines v Singapore
Wednesday April 18: 1700 Sri Lanka v Singapore, 1900 Philippines v Chinese Taipei
Saturday April 21: 1700 Singapore v Chinese Taipei, 1900 Philippines v Sri Lanka