The Philippines National Rugby Union Team easily defeated Malaysia in the battle to stay in A5N Div 1 in Seoul Korea today with an 86 – 20 win. This victory allows the Philippines to remain in the A5N Div 1 tournament in 2012 while Malaysia are now relegated to Div 2. The Philippines head coach Expo Mejia is confident that the Philippines will come back next year and claim victory at this level and win promotion to the Premier Division in the Asian 5 Nations tournament in 2013 with a view to competing for a Rugby World Cup qualification in 2014. “The current national men’s team has an average age of 22 and these players will develop over the next three years and will hit their peak in time to challenge for a top spot in Asia.”
After narrowly losing 34 - 20 to the number 1 ranked team Korea on Wednesday, the Philippines came out with all guns blazing to prove not only to themselves but to the Asian Rugby Community that they will be force to reckon with in the coming years. Korea are currently ranked 33rd in the world and the Philippines, who have yet to receive a ranking pushed the Koreans to the limit. This was evident today when Singapore were beaten by Korea by 58 to 19, meaning the Philippines were the closest team to Korea in this year’s A5N Div 1 tournament.
Oliver Saunders & Justin Coveney
The game against Malaysia opened with the Philippines scoring the first four tries in the first 15 minutes of the game, with the outside backs dominating the opposition. Joven Clarke, Gareth Holgate and Justin Coveney all crossed the line while Oli Saunders converted three to take a commanding lead of 26 – 0. Malaysia finally entered the Philippines territory and on the back of successive penalties, were able to take two shots at goal to register their first points of the game bringing the score to 26 – 6. Newly-capped test halfback James Price then decided to take matters into his own hands and ran the blind side to link up with the “flying jeepney” Justin Coveney who crossed for his forth try of the day. The Philippines then gave away another four penalties in a row and allowed the Malaysian kicker to slot another two penalty shots and bring the score to 31 – 12.
The final two minutes of the first half saw a try from each side, with Philippines Vice-Captain Chris Hitch making a damaging run through the midfield, carrying three Malaysian defenders across the line with him to score beside the posts. From the next kick-off the Malaysians were able to make steal and their winger chipped-kicked and ran onto a lucky bounce to score out wide on the halftime siren. The Philippines entered halftime with a 38 -17 lead. During the break, National team coach Expo Mejia implored the Philippines to refrain from giving up repeated penalties that were allowing the Malaysians to look better than what they were playing.
To their credit, the Philippine team came out in the second half and played to their patterns with a more disciplined approach. They then played the best half of Rugby at the 2011 A5N Div 1 tournament and scored 56 points to Malaysia’s 3 and proved that they can compete with the top level nations in Asia. James Price, Gareth Holgate, Justin Coveney, Patrice Olivier all scored backline tries before the long serving Josh Sutcliffe was able to drive the forwards over the line from a 5 meter lineout and score the last try of the game to win 86 – 20. This was the biggest victory score in A5N Div 1 history and Singapore had only beaten Malaysia by 52 – 18.
Chris Hitch and Gareth Holgate
Best Forward for the Philippines was Chris Hitch and best Back was Justin Coveney. Coach Expo Mejia also announced that Philippines Best Player of the Tournament was Gareth Holgate. Gareth will fly directly to Japan from the A5N tournament to start a professional Rugby Contract along with the Philippines Team Captain, Michael Letts.
In 2008 the Philippines were ranked in Div 4 and now in 2011 they are competing and winning games in Division 1. This is an incredible feat and the PRFU General Manager, Matt Cullen was impressed with the standard of play that the Philippines displayed at the tournament. “This is our first taste of Rugby Union at this level of competition and we have already cemented a place in the Division 1 rankings. We will work hard over the next 12 months and we now realize exactly what must be done to win at this level. We look forward to taking on the top nations in Asia in the coming years, Philippines Rugby Union is here to stay”
The Philippine National Men's 15s team went down to the highly-ranked Korea squad by 34 points to 20. In a game that hung in the balance until the last play of the day, the Philippine Volcanoes were unlucky not to equalize the scores at 27 all in the final few minutes. Their missed chance was capitalized on by the Koreans who scored on the last play of the game when the Philippines attempted to attack from their own five meter line a desperate bid to score the equalizing try. The Philippines can look back on a game of lost opportunity with only themselves to blame after committing 27 unforced errors, compared to Korea's ten errors. As a consequence, the Volcanoes were forced to defend for up to 70% of the game and this took its toll, while the Korean team stuck to basic patterns that worked well in the wet conditions.
The first two tries of the game came directly after the big Korean forward pack were able to win two scrums against the head and turned defence into offence to take an early lead of 10 - 0. The Philippines had their opportunities but on the first four occasions of entering the Korean half, the Philippines made simple mistakes that allowed the Koreans to diffuse any pressure. The Koreans then won a third scrum against the feed and the Philippines gave up a professional foul penalty in front of the posts by diving into a ruck to stop a certain try. This penalty was converted and Koreans had stamped their authority on the game up front with their forward pack and led 15 - 0. The Philippines then started to play attacking rugby and it was Oli Saunders who placed a perfectly weighted grubber kick through for center combination Justin Coveney and Gareth Holgate, as they both ran through behind the Korean defensive line to swoop on the loose ball. The ball bounced awkwardly and the Korean defence was able to counter attack and ran 60m to score an easy try and take a convincing 22 - 3 lead.
As the game wore on, the bigger Korean team started to tire and this is when the Philippines started to rally. It was the Philippines hooker Phil Abraham who ignited the go forward when he picked up a loose ball at the base of the ruck and split the Korean defence up the middle of the field and ran 30 meters to finally be pulled down on the Korean 22m line. It was the first time that the Philippines had entered the Korean half and consequently the Koreans gave up a penalty for holding the ball in a ruck. Oli Saunders was able to convert the Penalty from 30m out in front of the posts and register the first points for the Philippines. The successful penalty kick obviously inspired the Philippines and it was not long before Team Captain, Michael Letts was able to gain some valuable territory with a well waited kick and the Koreans were under pressure in their own 22 zone. Nick Pineda flew high to take the ball in the lineout and Oli Saunders ran to the line and found debutant Joven Clake on his outside shoulder and fed him a well-timed pass to allow Joven to break through two tackles and score the Philippines’ first try. This late try allowed the Philippines to go into the halftime break with some confidence and a respectable score of 22 - 8.
The Philippines had managed to stay within striking distance of the Korean team and came out in a positive mood to attack in the second half. The Philippines Vice Captain Chris Hitch struck the first blow when he gathered a loose ball at the back of a ruck and broke through three tackles to run 20 meters before being dragged down, he popped to the ball to Nick Pineda who then attracted another three defenders, Jake Letts was the man on the spot to shoot a quick fire pass out to his brother, Michael Letts who dummied on his outside and split the defence to score the opening try for the second half and reduce the score to 22 - 13.
From this point on the Koreans implemented a strategic kicking game that pinned the Philippines in their own quarter. As a result the Philippines struggled to exit their defensive zone and it was the Koreans who attacked for ten minutes and finally scored on the wing to take a 27 - 13 lead. The Philippines had displayed a remarkable defensive effort and the Koreans once again began to tire late in the second half. Gareth Holgate who had defended magnificently throughout the game at outside center then created a turnover and picked up a dropped ball to run 60 m and link up with his winger Matt Saunders who scored the try of the game under the posts. This was converted his brother Oli and with 5 minutes left in the game the Koreans had a slender lead of 27 - 20.
In a last ditch effort, the Philippines threw caution to wind and threw the ball to the first half try scoring speedster Joven Clarke, Joven stepped around his opposite winger and sped down the touchline, as the Korean fullback came to tackle him, Joven placed a chip kick that would have opened the doors for the Philippine attack, the Korean fullback was just able to juggle the kick with his finger tips and took the intercept to run away and secure victory for the Koreans. The final score was 34 - 20 to Korea and they can thank their lucky stars that the Philippines had not drawn level as they had run out of legs and were struggling in the last ten minutes of the game.
It was a remarkable effort for a Philippine National team who do not even have a world ranking to push the 33rd ranked team in the world to such a close scoreline. Philippines coach Expo Mejia was disappointed with the Philippines execution and decision making and is confident that the Philippines will win the A5N Div 1 Tournament in the next twelve months. The Philippines must now concentrate on winning their game against Malaysia this Saturday and ensure they remain in this Division. Philippines Manager Matt Cullen is confident that the Philippines will regroup from the loss against Korea and come out to play a strong and disciplined game against Malaysia this Saturday.
Best forwards for the Philippines were Nick Pineda and Chris Hitch and best backs were Joven Clarke and Gareth Holgate.
Joven Clarke (1)
Michael Letts (1)
Oliver Saunders (1)
Oliver Saunders (1)
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