MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Volcanoes made rugby history on Saturday by surviving Sri Lanka’s furious rally late in the game to grab the Division 1 crown of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations.
The victory earned the Philippine team a chance to compete in the 2013 HSBC Asian 5 Nations Championship, the first for the country.
Oliver Saunders spearheaded the Volcanoes’ first half surge en route to a 28-18 victory over the top seed Sri Lanka.
Saunders tallied three penalty kicks to go along with his two conversions.
Joe Matthews and team skipper Mike Letts added two tries to post a 23–3 half time lead over the Sri Lankans.
In the second half, Sri Lanka immediately knocked in a couple of tries followed by one conversion to put the scores at 23-15.
Another penalty kick brought the Sri Lankans within 5 points with over 25 minutes remaining in the game.
But Justin Coveney pulled the Volcanoes away, 28–18, giving the Philippine side a defensive leeway to secure the win.
“We worked really, really hard. It's an amazing feeling to be part of this,” said Saunders. “Sri Lanka really gave it to us in the second half.”
Philippine coach Expo Mejia said the team, composed mainly of Filipino-foreigners, dedicates the achievement to the country.
“I've never coached a team like this… it has so much team spirit and they have team pride. They're proud of their Filipino heritage and they did this for the people today,” he said.
Mejia said the Volcanoes will now have the chance to join the 2015 Rugby World Cup if they perform well at the Asian 5 Nations Top 5.
He hopes the team will finally get the backing it deserves from the Filipino sports fans.
“It takes us to the top 5 of countries in Asia and allows us to qualify to the World Cup. It's a tremendous win for the country and I hope the Filipino people will get behind our sport,” he said.
The final statistics showed the Philippines had 3 tries, while Sri Lanka had 2. The Volcanoes also had 2 conversions against Sri Lanka’s 1.
The Philippines scored on 3 penalties, all by Saunders, while the opposition had 2.
Sri Lanka had more tackles with 57, most of them taking place in the second half. The Philippines, on the other hand, had 50.