MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Volcanoes are optimistic of their development after returning to action in the Asian Sevens Series in Dubai last month -- their first taste of competition in two years.
The Volcanoes recently returned to the country after 10 days in Dubai, where they finished in eighth place in the Asian Sevens Series.
Although they finished last in the field, the men's and women's teams are taking solace in producing some close results after a two-year absence from the game.
"We knew from the start it was going to be a difficult task, after a two-year absence, a short preparation period and a high number of new players at this level. Our goal was to show Philippine Rugby is back and to blood some new talent at the highest level," said Jake Letts of Philippine Rugby.
The Volcanoes put forward 10 debutants and featured a total of three players from each program that competed in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games where the team secured gold in the men's and silver in the women's.
"It was great to have some quality players return back into the program, who performed well. Kai Ledesma Stroem returned after a four-year absence from the national team. He's been playing professionally in Japan so it was great to have him back and lead the team from the front," said Letts.
"Upcoming Ysabel Del Fierro, who has represented our U18s team in the past, also made her debut at the senior level. Great to see her come through the youth program also and showcase she belongs in the senior level," he added.
Both teams remained competitive against rivals Malaysia and Sri Lanka. However, there was still a significant gap between the Philippines and the top four teams in Asia, featuring powerhouses Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea.
Hong Kong and Korea finished in the top two in the men's, with China and Japan in the women's.
"The top teams in Asia you could tell had their strongest squad available and were obviously battle hardened before the tournament. They have had the luxury to play together in international competitions throughout COVID," Letts noted.
"We haven't had that yet. We will need at least another 12 months before we can get back to the same level of play we were playing at in 2018 and 2019 before the pandemic hit," he added.
The women's team had performed well in 2019, winning a gold in the 2019 Asia Trophy Series and a silver in the SEA Games. The men's team, meanwhile, recorded a third-place finish in Asia in 2018 and regained the SEA Games gold in 2019.
The 2022 calendar should be busy for the Philippine teams, with at least five competitions for the men's and women's squads at the top level.
"For 2022, we are looking at both 15s and 7s, so that includes the annual Asia Rugby Championships, as well as three legs of the Asia Sevens Series along with the Asian Games," said Letts.
"We also want to ensure our national development programs and domestic competitions are re-launched to ensure our entire rugby community can return to the field," he added.
Philippine Rugby is in the process of announcing its 2022 domestic calendar, with a sharp focus on preparation before playing full contact rugby again.
The union will be scheduling a series of touch rugby festivals before any contact rugby is back. Clubs are also expected to start their official training sessions to ensure the players and teams are game ready come the launch of the season in 2022.
"We are looking at touch rugby festivals in December, January and February, with a goal to start contact in late March/April if all goes smoothly," said Letts.