Volcanoes whip UAE, keep top Asian 5 slot
THE PHILIPPINE rugby team came up with a brave, battling game to smother the United Arab Emirates, 24-8, before a big, wildly cheering crowd at Rizal Memorial Stadium Saturday night and keep its spot in the HSBC Asian Five Nations elite group at least until next year.
Flanker Chris Hitch scurried for a try off a scrum from the five-meter line to break the ice for the PH side, before winger Gareth Holgate sprinted for another to give the Volcanoes a 10-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of the match.
“We had no special preparation, we just stuck to what we’ve worked hard the last few months and did it better and longer,” said coach Jarred Hodges after the match.
The victory installed the Philippines as No. 4 in the continent.
“Our goal was top three but we fell short,” added Hodges. “Now we look to getting better.”
About 5,700 spectators—the biggest attendance ever in a rugby game here—showed up, the majority of them expatriates who cheered both sides while sipping beer sold at the stands.
Hodges said the Volcanoes capitalized on their speed to overwhelm the UAE side, which had played at the elite A5N level for the past five years and would now be replaced by Sri Lanka, which topped the second-tier Division 1.
“(The PH) defense was better, but (a big) part of (the win) was because UAE doesn’t play as fast as the other teams,” said Hodges, the Volcanoes’ Australian mentor.
“They allowed us to have more time to set up our defense. The challenge for us was to play at the level of Japan and South Korea.”
The Volcanoes had lost to both countries and to Hong Kong by big margins.
Alex Aronson’s conversion kick pushed the Volcanoes to 12-0, before UAE flanker Reiner Els came through with a try for 12-5. UAE had three penalty kicks but fly half Andrew Russel couldn’t find his range.
The taller and bigger visitors finally came through with a penalty kick and closed in at 8-12 at the start of the second half.
But the Volcanoes stood their ground, and after successive attacks, succeeded in scoring another try—worth five points— through Graeme Hagan for 17-8 in the 58th minute.
“Jake Letts put me in the gap and at that time we needed a try because UAE could put the game any other way,” said Hagan, who scored after a 10-minute banishment to the bench for fighting.
“I just thought I needed to do something good for the team. We just didn’t imagine getting relegated and we needed a win.”
Aronson, designated to take the two-point conversion kicks which comes after a try, made it 19-8 before a power outage halted play with less than four minutes left in the match.
The Volcanoes came out after the 15-minute interruption with a decisive show as Matt Saunders scored another try half a minute before the final whistle.
“I was lucky, the board sort of popped up and there’s an opening and I took it,” said Saunders, who described the win as “massive” for Philippine rugby.
“You look for a moment like that, it was sort of luck, and I capitalized on it. We have never been relegated, we either stayed at one level or improved. It proved that Filipinos can play rugby. We are a force in Asia being in the top five and we deserve to be here.”
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