Women's rugby in Cebu spurs national boom for Lady Volcanoes

CEBU CITY, Philippines – Adequate training and support from the government proved to be two of the biggest factors in the Philippine Lady Volcanoes bronze finish in their first ever Women's Rugby 7s competition in the recently held 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.

The team settled for the bronze with a 22-0 routing of Malaysia.

Three members of the team – Madille Salinas, Aiumi Ono and Dixie Star Yu are Cebu natives while the team's manager, Mae Ann Ubaub, is also Cebuana. Eloisa Jasmine Jordan, who too hails from Cebu, also made it to the national team. However, an injury incurred during training just two days before the team was to leave for Singapore stopped her from seeing action.

All are also members of the Cebu Lady Dragons.

Ubaub said that they had gone to Manila as early as January to prepare for the event. They used funds provided by the private sectors here in Cebu while their teammates based in Manila helped them with their accommodations.

By March, Ubaub said that the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee provided them with food, strength and conditioning and a nutritionist.

They were also promised a three months allowance from March to May, although they have yet to receive it. Ubaub said that they have already accomplished all the requirements and they are just waiting to get their allowance.

“Getting the bronze is great, as a first timer, nindot ang feeling nga di mi talunan (it was nice to feel that we were not losers). Although we aimed for the gold, at least we still brought something back,” said Salinas, a veteran rugby player who have been in and out of the sport.

Although it is the first time that the Philippines sent a women's rugby team to the SEA Games, this, however, is not the first time that the Philippine Lady Volcanoes have seen action in an international competition.

The three agreed that months of training before the competition really helped and improved the team's performance. They trained two times a day and 6 times a week. It was the first time that the team had months of preparation with the support of the government.

“It was the best so far. If we continue preparing this way like training two months prior, there is a big chance that we will reach our goal,” said Yu, who added that in previous meetings, they have a hard time scoring against Singapore. Now they managed to stop the host team from blanking them by sneaking in a score in the last 30 seconds of the match.

It also helps that the team's coach, Shirley Russell, who used to be a member of the Australia National Women’s rugby team, believed that the Filipinos have a chance in becoming one of the strong contenders in the sport, Yu said.

During training for the SEA Games, Salinas said that aside from playing against the boys who are admittedly faster and stronger, they focused on learning how to read their opponent's moves so they could also improve on their defense.

Ubaub said that a plan is being worked out wherein the training will be held in Manila for a month and then Cebu the next month then back in Manila and so forth, but nothing is definite yet.

Rugby is not just for men

The girls admitted that they had wanted to bring home a medal to spark an interest among the girls here in Cebu to try the sport.

Although the Cebu Dragons (men's team) and the Cebu Lady Dragons have been in existence since the early 2000s, rugby remains in obscurity here in Cebu.

Salinas said they may have been discouraged by the full contact that the sport entails “but if they just try it, they will find that they will like it.”

Yu added that there is no need to be masculine, nor is there a height and weight requirement for one to join the sport. “We have specific positions for all sizes. One just needs to be brave and healthy.”

The lack of a home field is also one of the deterrents of rugby's growth in Cebu. Both men's and women's teams train at the Sandtrap located at a northern barangay of the city and at the open field within the vicinity of the Ayala Mall.

“It would really help if we get financial support here,” Salinas said.

At the moment, the girls along with the rest of the Cebu Lady Dragons are preparing for two more tournaments—one national and one international, all happening next month.

The girls except for Ono, who is playing in a league in Japan, are preparing for the Philippine National Games (PNG) slated for July 4 in Manila wherein they will be representing Cebu. Last year, they won silver while the year previous they bagged the gold.

Then on July 11, they will host and see action in the Cebu Ladies International Invitational Rugby 10s - the only all female rugby tournament in Asia - at the Cebu City Sports Center.

Defending champion Bangkok will be competing along with teams from Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

The Philippine Lady Volcanoes will also be seeing action, this time minus Salinas, Ubaub and Yu as they will be playing under the Cebu Lady Dragons. - Rappler.com