MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Volcanoes feel good about their chances to capture the crown in the Asian Rugby Championship Division I on May 6 and 9 at the new Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
The Volcanoes enter the 15-a-side tourney as the top-seeded team and they intend to play true to form on home front against lower-ranked rivals from Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan.
“We’re coming in ranked first, unlike the last two years (in the Asian 5 Nations Premier Division) where we’re ranked fourth against formidable nations like Japan, Hong Kong and Korea. I think it’s about time the Volcanoes get back on the winning streak,” Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU) director for rugby Matt Cullen said during yesterday’s PSA Forum.
The A5N has been restructured into the ARC, where powerhouse Japan, Hong Kong and Korea have been clustered together in the Elite Division while the next four nations in the rankings, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Singapore, are bracketed in Division 1.
“We’ve had a very tough run before because we’ve gone up against formidable nations in the Premier Division the past two years. But with the ARC, this is going to be an exciting tournament for us and the three other countries. This is the first time ever we’re hosting here with the view of winning the tournament,” Cullen said.
The Volcanoes face fourth-ranked Singapore on May 6, confident of hurdling their Asean neighbors to advance to the May 9 championship against the winner between No. 2 Sri Lanka and No. 3 Kazakhstan and eventually capture the gold.
But Cullen, who appeared with player Jake Letts and marketing head Mike Bolante in the forum, cautioned against taking the visiting teams lightly.
“Although we’re currently ranked the top seeds in Division 1, this will be by no means a walk in the park. The other teams will be just as ready to take that crown,” he said.
Overseas-based pros like Oliver Saunders and his brothers Matthew and Ben, Justin Coveney, Alex Aronson and Gareth Holgate are coming over to beef up the Pinoys in this campaign.
The Volcanoes are also banking on their 16th man – the home crowd – at the 25,000-seater PSS.
“Playing in a stadium such as PSS, in front of the home crowd will surely pump up the team and inspire us to put our best foot forward and bring Phl rugby on the map,” said Letts.
The Volcanoes are seeking to sustain the momentum from their meteoric rise to the elite level, a feat highlighted by qualification to the 2013 Rugby Sevens World Cup, the first Filipino team to achieve the feat in 50 years.
Phl’s men’s rugby sevens squad also placed fifth overall in the 2014 Asian Games in Korea and targets the gold in the coming Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.
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