MANILA, Philippines — They are vowing to finish in the top four this time around.
Despite defeating eventual winners Korea by 19-14 in their last competition in Shanghai, the Philippine Volcanoes finished seventh out of 12 teams.
But that was then.
The Volcanoes leave tomorrow, Sept. 22, for the second leg of the HSBC Borneo Rugby Sevens Tournament from Sept. 23-25. This time, they are headed to Kota Kinabalu. This time, they are bringing a better team. And this time, they are convinced they will place higher.
Disappointing as the first leg of the championships was, their win against teams like Korea, the United Emirates and Thailand showed that the Volcanoes can compete and triumph over top teams in Asia.
“The boys who were in Shanghai, they now know what it takes to win, they now know what to focus on to get where we want to be,” said assistant coach Noel Flowers.
The Volcanoes were one win away from the top four in the Shanghai leg of the tournament last month.
On their first day, the Volcanoes defeated the United Arab Emirates, a high-ranked team, and Korea, who had not been defeated in three years. On the second day however, the team lost their first game to Kazahkstan costing them the top four spot. It is this inconsistency that this new team, which have kept core members and gained better players, hopes to overcome.
“With all these new players coming in, it’s going to help us build on our performance,” said Team Captain Jake Letts. “We look to perform well enough on Saturday to qualify for the finals and on Sunday, we really need to explode and make sure we get into the top four.”
“We let ourselves down [in Shanghai] and we learned from that,” he said.
Changes to the team include the recruitment of four top level Filipino players from Australia, including experienced brothers Luke and Joe Matthews.
Trying to make history
After this tournament, the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) will rank Asia’s elite sevens teams. The ranking will determine which Asian national teams are eligible to join other international tournaments of higher caliber like the Hong Kong Sevens in March 2012.
The Philippine Volcanoes are looking to make history by becoming the first Filipino men’s rugby team to play in the prestigious tournament.
Head coach Matt Cullen is confident. “I think in the next 12 or 18 months, people in the Philippines are going to know who the Volcanoes are,” he said. “Not only for billboards but because we can play rugby and we’re going to win here in Asia.”
The Philippines is in the same pool as third-ranked team Japan, United Arab Emirates and Kazahkstan this weekend. They will play a round robin-competition within their pool on day one, and on day two, will play knock-out matches to determine the final rankings for the HSBC Asian Sevens Series 2011.
While other Asian teams have the luxury of practicing with the same set of players year-round, the Philippine Volcanoes are forced to work double hard when training for a tournament since they have full-time jobs or are still in school. And most do not live here.
Before a tournament, the players fly in from all over the world to train together for several days before they compete. This week for instance, was devoted to practicing together in Manila.
They come from countries like France, Australia, and the United Kingdom, but all are alike in that they are all half-Filipino – most have Filipina mothers – and that in itself is a common bond. That and the fact that they all grew up eating the same food and raised under similar Filipino values and traditions, which all contribute to the close-knit relationship they share despite playing apart most of the year.
“We all have this weird mentality which is very similar to each other,” explained British Filipino Harry Morris. “We can all relate because we all have very similar mindsets and that kind of thing. We’re all brothers really.”
Their shared experiences and a common sense of nationalism result in a tight relationship that helps them perform better on the field.
“I’ve had people who I’ve grown up with in Australia since I’ve been five years old but there’s no bond closer than the Philippine Volcanoes together,” Australian Filipino Justin Coveney said. “We all trust in each other on the field and we’re confident in each other’s abilities.”
Letts agrees, “We’re brothers from another mother, that’s our saying.”
The team received their jerseys for the tournament earlier today at Oakwood Hotel, which is one of the sponsors of the rugby team. They were presented by Coach Cullen and Mr. Brian Connelly, General Manager of Oakwood Premier.
The players representing the Philippine National Men’s 7s team are Mark Chatting, Justin Coveney, Chris Everingham, Chris Hitch, Joe Matthews, Luke Matthews, Harry Morris, Matt Saunders, Oli Saunders, Eric Tai, Andrew Wolff, and Jake Letts.
For more of the Philippine Volcanoes, watch their video.
Follow the reporter on Twitter: @natashya_g