MANILA, Philippines – The men’s Philippine rugby team made their debut at the premier Sevens Rugby tournament in the world, the Hong Kong Sevens, falling to 2011 Hong Kong Sevens Bowl Champion Canada 35 – 5 on Friday, March 23.
The debutants’ nerves on the big stage were apparent as starting hooker Chris Hitch was shown the yellow card on the opening kick-off for hitting the receiving player in the air before he landed, forcing the Volcanoes to play the opening two minutes of their opening match a man down.
Initially, it seemed the Volcanoes would be able to hold off the Canadians despite their man advantage with winger Matt Saunders shedding tacklers in a strong run down the wing to make ground and bring the Volcanoes into attacking position.
A knock-on at the end of the run, however, resulted in a Canadian put-in at the scrum which they used to their advantage to stretch the outnumbered Philippine defensive line and use a scissor run on the wing to pierce the line for a long 60-meter try directly prior to Hitch’s return to the pitch.
The Canadians experience and technical quality were apparent as they immediately recovered the ball on the restart on a well-taken, high, short kick-off which allowed them to press the attack again.
While the Volcanoes looked dangerous while in possession, especially when Saunders and the “Flying Jeepney” Justin Coveney were carrying the ball, retaining possession proved to be a problem as the Canadian team would regularly turnover ball after long runs from Volcanoes runners.
The Philippine team also struggled to acclimate to the speed of the high-level international game as the opposition capitalized twice on quick penalties to penetrate a disorganized Philippine defense for two tries, going into the half-time break 21 – 0.
2nd half improvement
The opening stanza of the second half was a different story though as the Volcanoes inserted Patrice Olivier, who plays for storied French professional club Bezier, and Mark Chatting.
The boys in blue looked stronger in possession, retaining the ball through 3 or 4 phases of play, and more organized in defense.
Olivier’s class was obvious as he made ground on the edges of the Canadian defense with his pace, breaking off three dangerous looking runs that looked likely to score in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Volcanoes second-half improvement was rewarded as Joe Matthews turned a Canadian turnover into a kick and chase that would likely have resulted in a try if not for a professional foul by the Canadian sweeper that lead to a yellow card.
Coveney received the ball on the attacking 22-metre line from the resulting penalty, stepped his defender on the outside, and dove into the corner of the try zone to score the Philippines’ first ever try on the Sevens world stage to narrow the gap to 21 – 5 with two and a half minutes left to play.
That was to be the last of the Volcanoes threats though as the seeming relief from their first try lead to a let-down in team defense as the Canadians closed the game out with two converted tries in the closing minutes from restarts to bring the final score to 35-5.
While the final score may have been lopsided, the Volcanoes looked dangerous in stretches against a quality international side that defeated Wales, France, and Asian Champions Japan last year to win the bowl final.
Poor performance at kick-offs were the undoing of the Philippine side, but the Volcanoes looked competitive in open play in both attack and defense against a side favored to win the pool and finish strongly in the Shield competition.
The Philippines looks to bounce back tomorrow against Spain at 9:52am and Zimbabwe at 3 pm with two more opportunities to mark their first Hong Kong Sevens campaign with a victory. – Rappler.com
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