MANILA, Philippines—Rugby union minnows the Philippines surprised doubters by barging into Asia’s elite top-five this month but the long shots have their eyes on an unlikely trip to the England 2015 World Cup.
Philippine Volcanoes coach Expo Mejia said Thursday they just have to win one of four qualifying matches in 2013, plus three of four in 2014, to win a World Cup berth.
“We will be very competitive next year. I like our chances,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The team, who won promotion to Asia’s rugby union top flight by beating a stubborn Sri Lanka in the Division 1 championships last week, have risen swiftly since playing their first Division 4 match in 2008, he said.
“We have the best record in the region, except for Japan.”
Mejia sees Hong Kong and Japan as the Volcanoes’ biggest challenges to qualifying for the World Cup.
“Japan is very strong at the moment. We will probably have to fight Hong Kong for the second spot,” he said.
“We’d have to play really well. Last year we lost to them (Hong Kong), so it will be a difficult game.”
He said his players, some of whom play professional rugby in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, had proved they could compete on the international level and were boosted by the growing local support.
This is despite rugby being relatively alien to Filipinos who overwhelmingly prefer basketball.
This is changing, however, with more Filipinos getting in to the sport, the coach said.
In the past, the team consisted mostly of expatriates, but Mejia said that now, most of the Volcanoes have at least one Filipino parent.
Unlike basketball, people of shorter stature, like most Filipinos, could excel in rugby, said Mejia, a former rugby and mathematics teacher in Australian schools and descended from Filipino migrants.
“With rugby you need every single body type out in the field. The short, stocky ones can help push in the scrums. Body type is not a problem,” he said.