Volcanoes Erupt to Keep RWC 2015 Dream Alive

The Philippines bandwagon rumbles on. And it’s still gaining momentum. Having been all over Asia winning the lower divisions of the HSBC Asian Five Nations, they finally came home to Manila and immediately gave their Rugby-hungry supporters something to cheer about (Volcanoes).

On Sunday, in front of a crowd of almost 2,000 in Manila, they beat a tough, abrasive Singapore side 37-20 in a Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifier and with that victory not only did they keep their RWC dreams alive but also may have just inspired a nation of 90 million people to fall in love with Rugby, many of whom would have been watching live on free-to-air television.

Of course, there’s a long way to go before Asia puts forward its direct qualifier for England 2015 – two years to be exact – but the Philippines are putting together a team that aims to make the big boys in the Region look up and take notice.

Afterwards, captain Michael Letts was delighted with his team’s performance.

“The first game of any tournament is always going to be tough so I’m with how we approached this game,” said the rangy full-back.

“Singapore is a big side with a strong scrum so I was delighted with how we out-muscled them at times during the game. That gave us the platform to score tries out wide,” said Letts, whose fine score near the end of the match, sealed victory for the home side. Receiving the ball near the right-hand touchline just inside Singapore’s 22, he still had a lot to do. Three defenders bounced off and he snuck over in the corner.

“I was surprised to get there but it was a very happy way to finish off the game,” he said.

The Volcanoes certainly have plenty of pace out wide with all six of their tries coming from backs. In particular, wingers Joseph Matthews (right) and Patrice Olivier (left), and outside-half Oliver Saunders, were outstanding.

But having made a clinical start (at one point they were ahead 24-3), some indiscipline allowed Singapore back into the match. Time after time the Philippines were penalised up front as Singapore worked hard to keep the ball tight and maul their way up the field, with their massive lock Marc Warburton martialling. It is telling that while the Philippines’ scoresheet was dominated by backs, the visitors’ two tries both came from forwards. Prop Riady Perdana and number-eight Peter McFeely both found a way over following repeated rolling mauls.

But the party atmosphere at the Rizal Memorial Stadium was not be dampened as the home team did enough for victory. Coach Expo Mejia knows, however, that the penalty count will have to be reduced if his team is to beat Chinese Taipei on Wednesday and Sri Lanka on Saturday.

“Yes, the penalties were frustrating and they kept Singapore in the game,” said Mejia. “I think we could have blown that game apart if it was not for our penalties so that is something we will be working on this week as we prepare for the next two games.”

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s discipline also let them down in the first game of the day and but for their three yellow cards and high penalty count, they could have beaten a resilient Chinese Taipei team by more than the 36-8 scoreline. Prop Terence Henry and hooker Achala Perera were both directed to the sin bin within two minutes of each other, each guilty of dangerous shoulder charges. Then, two minutes before the final whistle, replacement Dev Anand saw yellow for repeated offences at the breakdown.

But the other side of Sri Lanka was sublime. A high-energy, highly skilled team, they were too hot for Chinese Taipei to handle for much of the game, particularly the first 40 minutes. Dominant in the pack and with pace to spare out wide, a rout looked on the cards as tries went in from lock Hasitha Perera, blind-side Sumedha Malawana, centre Cahrith Senaviratne, and wing Sandun Herath.

But Chinese Taipei stuck to their task well. Having gone 29-3 down at half-time, they scored shortly after the interval through a try from bustling scrum-half Chia Han Chen and as Sri Lanka lost their composure the score remained 29-8 until five minutes before the end when replacement Mohamed Sheriff crashed over.

While happy with the victory, Sri Lanka – like Philippines – will know improved discipline could be the key to their success over the next week or so.

These HSBC Asian Five Nations Division 1 matches were the first Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers in the Asia Region and IRB Council Member Koji Tokumasu was in the crowd to offer official IRB support for the series. Also in attendance was the RWC trophy itself, the iconic Webb Ellis Cup, which was a big hit with the local supporters. The Cup had never been in the Philippines before.

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.

For more information, 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: Sri Lanka 36 Chinese Taipei 8; Philippines 37 Singapore 20

Remaining fixtures:

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

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