What you need to know about A5N and the Volcanoes

Jon Morales
Learn about the team, the opponents and the preparations of the Philippine Volcanoes

MANILA, Philippines – Next week, Manila will play host to the Webb Ellis Cup, the Rugby World Cup champion’s trophy, and the first qualifier for the 2015 Rugby World Cup as the Division 1 Asia 5 Nations tournament kicks off at Rizal stadium. 

Sri Lanka, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and the Philippines will vie for a chance to be promoted to the A5N Top 5 and a shot at winning a spot in the 2015 Rugby World Cup to be held in England. This year’s tournament features a first-past the-post round robin format in which each team will play every other team over the course of a week, rather than the knock-out system previously used to determine promotion and relegation. 

The Volcanoes enter the tournament seeded 3rd behind recently relegated Top 5 nation Sri Lanka and 2011 Division 1 runners up Singapore.

Just short

The Asia 5 Nations tournament features 5 total divisions with the winners of each division promoted to the next level and the last-place finishers being relegated to the lower division each year. 

Since its inception in 2008, the Volcanoes have posted the second-best winning percentage among all divisions behind only Japan, which has never lost an Asia 5 Nations match.

The Philippines’ unbeaten streak was ended last year when they were defeated by eventual Division 1 champions and tournament host Korea as a last-gasp comeback attempt in the waning minutes fell agonizingly short. The team went on to resoundingly defeat Malaysia 86 – 20 in the 3rd-place match to avoid relegation and remain in Division 1. 

Should the Volcanoes go on to win this year’s tournament, they will still post the record for the fastest promotion campaign in A5N history, advancing from the lowest division, division 4, to the Top 5 in just 4 years.

Tough opposition

Despite their seeding, the Philippines should be strong promotion contenders in this year’s tournament, having posted a more credible result against Division 1 champions Korea than the runner-up Singapore, who fell in the final 58 – 19. 

The Volcanoes will face stiff opposition though, with their final match against Sri Lanka looming as the biggest test. Ex-England international and former British Lion Phil Greening has been hired to coach the Sri Lankan national team, bringing with him a heavy dose of international Test rugby experience and professional coaching experience after stints as England Sevens assistant manager and assistant coach at London Welsh RFC. 

Entering the tournament as the number one seed, Sri Lanka remain the favorites for the tournament and will be hungry to return to the Top 5 after their fall from grace last year.  Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei also benefit from the advantage of having their national team players gathered in one place for the majority of the year while the Volcanoes are forced to find top-flight rugby in overseas leagues across the world because of the nascent nature of the sport in the Philippines.  

All of the teams, though, will face the challenge of playing 3 full Test matches in a single week on short rest.  With only two days of rest between matches, the congested fixture schedule may turn the tournament into a battle of attrition.

Injuries could be the deciding factor on the outcome of the tournament, with the team that is able to stay healthiest over the course of the week possessing a significant advantage.
 
Team preps

The Volcanoes players returned to the Manila this past week itching to push the team to the next level.  They have been training at Nomads Sports Club under head coach Expo Mejia and assistant coach Jared Hodges to prepare for the tournament, reviewing team structures, strategies, and player roles. 

Many of the players return with a year of professional rugby experience under their belt after being scouted in last year’s tournament and signed by overseas clubs.  Sadly, the home team will sorely miss star center 2011 tournament standout Gareth Holgate who is currently rehabilitating from a shoulder reconstruction at his professional club in Japan, Kyuden Voltex. 

The Volcanoes look to veteran campaigners Patrice Olivier, Matthew Saunders, and Fil-Australian newcomer Brian West to pick up the slack at the outside center position and pair with Justin Coveney from the Ricoh Rams at inside center. 

This year’s squad features three other players who will be looking forward to making their Test Match debuts in front of the home crowd.  Steven Howorth, Matt Bellenie, and Jake Ward will look to pick up their first-ever Test caps for the Philippines next week.  

Traditionally, the Philippines has played an up-tempo, direct, and physical style focusing on their attacking strength in the back-line, especially at the centers positions and this year’s campaign should see more of the same from the Volcanoes as they look to capitalize on their deep and talented back-line.  

The Philippines begin their promotion campaign at 7PM on Sunday April 15th against regional rivals Singapore at Rizal Stadium with free admission. – Rappler.com

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