Fly-half Alex Aronson
One half to remember, and one to forget. That was what the Philippine Volcanoes gave to the hometown crowd at Rizal Memorial Stadium on Sunday against Hong Kong as they came roaring out of the gates to shake the heavily-favored visitors for a half and then some.
Rookie fly-half Alex Aronson gave the Volcanoes a quick start by kicking a penalty to give the underdog Volcanoes an early 3-0 lead. The team’s confidence soared as they stymied Hong Kong in the midfield and on the fringes, buoyed by a fervent home crowd.
The early returns also carried signs of what would ultimately be the team’s undoing, as the Philippine scrum struggled to deal with Hong Kong up front. Hong Kong’s first try was awarded as a penalty try after a collapsed scrum on the 5-meter line.
Nothing summed up the team’s first-half confidence though than the passage of play directly off the kick-off following Hong Kong taking their first lead. A long kick-off by Aronson to just in front of the visiting 22 was recovered by the Volcanoes and lock forward David Feeney, captain of the local Manila Nomads, first made spectators
A famous upset seemed to be in the works as Hong Kong produced some sloppy ball inside the Volcanoes’ 22-meter that was picked up by the outside backs of the Philippines and run back for a sparkling coast-to-coast try and an apparent 17-7 lead going into the half. Fortune didn't favor the Philippines as the referee produced a shaky offside call to nullify the try, and then almost immediately awarded another penalty try for another collapsed scrum to Hong Kong. Despite not having kicked a penalty nor crossed the try line, and rarely crossing the gain line in the first-half, the visitors entered the half with a 14-10 lead and breathing room to regain their footing.
For 10 more minutes the Volcanoes looked undaunted by the bad luck and questionable calls. while another Aronson penalty brought the home-side to within 1 point before Hong Kong’s overwhelming advantage in the scrum and a regrouped Hong Kong backline began to cut apart the Volcanoes defense. An already thin Filipino frontline, struggling with the loss of loose forward Jake Ward to broken ribs, took another hit as lock Steve Howorth continued to struggle with a knock suffered in pre-season and had to leave the game. Blindside Flanker Terry Carroll was forced into the lock position while Daniel Rodriguez was brought on at blindside.
When a nice Hong Kong backline move in the midfield sprung Jonny Rees for his first try of two up the middle, the first-half 14-point swing began to look like a backbreaker. The try signalled the beginning of the end as Hong Kong began to pour in try after try as defensive breakdowns and set-piece difficulties for the Volcanoes piled up. Captain Michael Letts provided a brief moment of solace for the home crowd with a late try and Aronson kicked the conversion to finish a perfect day of kicking, going four from four, but by then, Hong Kong had already run away with the game.
The Volcanoes can take a large measure of comfort from their first-half performance against one of the top Asian teams with a much improved showing over their opener. The team will have to combine their sparkling attacking potential with a consistent eighty minutes of defense and produce some solution to their continuing struggles against larger teams in the scrum.
The upcoming weeks will see the arrival of veteran forwards Josh Sutcliffe, Phil Abraham, and Michael de Guzman to shore up an injury-depleted forward pack as the team goes into their last two critical matches in a fight for top-division survival in Korea on May 11th, and what may be a relegation battle against visiting UAE at Rizal stadium on May 18th.
report: Jon Morales
photos: Jinggo Montenejo
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