The Philippines National Rugby Union Team easily defeated Malaysia in the battle to stay in A5N Div 1 in Seoul Korea today with an 86 – 20 win. This victory allows the Philippines to remain in the A5N Div 1 tournament in 2012 while Malaysia are now relegated to Div 2. The Philippines head coach Expo Mejia is confident that the Philippines will come back next year and claim victory at this level and win promotion to the Premier Division in the Asian 5 Nations tournament in 2013 with a view to competing for a Rugby World Cup qualification in 2014. “The current national men’s team has an average age of 22 and these players will develop over the next three years and will hit their peak in time to challenge for a top spot in Asia.”
After narrowly losing 34 - 20 to the number 1 ranked team Korea on Wednesday, the Philippines came out with all guns blazing to prove not only to themselves but to the Asian Rugby Community that they will be force to reckon with in the coming years. Korea are currently ranked 33rd in the world and the Philippines, who have yet to receive a ranking pushed the Koreans to the limit. This was evident today when Singapore were beaten by Korea by 58 to 19, meaning the Philippines were the closest team to Korea in this year’s A5N Div 1 tournament.
Oliver Saunders & Justin Coveney
The game against Malaysia opened with the Philippines scoring the first four tries in the first 15 minutes of the game, with the outside backs dominating the opposition. Joven Clarke, Gareth Holgate and Justin Coveney all crossed the line while Oli Saunders converted three to take a commanding lead of 26 – 0. Malaysia finally entered the Philippines territory and on the back of successive penalties, were able to take two shots at goal to register their first points of the game bringing the score to 26 – 6. Newly-capped test halfback James Price then decided to take matters into his own hands and ran the blind side to link up with the “flying jeepney” Justin Coveney who crossed for his forth try of the day. The Philippines then gave away another four penalties in a row and allowed the Malaysian kicker to slot another two penalty shots and bring the score to 31 – 12.
The final two minutes of the first half saw a try from each side, with Philippines Vice-Captain Chris Hitch making a damaging run through the midfield, carrying three Malaysian defenders across the line with him to score beside the posts. From the next kick-off the Malaysians were able to make steal and their winger chipped-kicked and ran onto a lucky bounce to score out wide on the halftime siren. The Philippines entered halftime with a 38 -17 lead. During the break, National team coach Expo Mejia implored the Philippines to refrain from giving up repeated penalties that were allowing the Malaysians to look better than what they were playing.
To their credit, the Philippine team came out in the second half and played to their patterns with a more disciplined approach. They then played the best half of Rugby at the 2011 A5N Div 1 tournament and scored 56 points to Malaysia’s 3 and proved that they can compete with the top level nations in Asia. James Price, Gareth Holgate, Justin Coveney, Patrice Olivier all scored backline tries before the long serving Josh Sutcliffe was able to drive the forwards over the line from a 5 meter lineout and score the last try of the game to win 86 – 20. This was the biggest victory score in A5N Div 1 history and Singapore had only beaten Malaysia by 52 – 18.
Chris Hitch and Gareth Holgate
Best Forward for the Philippines was Chris Hitch and best Back was Justin Coveney. Coach Expo Mejia also announced that Philippines Best Player of the Tournament was Gareth Holgate. Gareth will fly directly to Japan from the A5N tournament to start a professional Rugby Contract along with the Philippines Team Captain, Michael Letts.
In 2008 the Philippines were ranked in Div 4 and now in 2011 they are competing and winning games in Division 1. This is an incredible feat and the PRFU General Manager, Matt Cullen was impressed with the standard of play that the Philippines displayed at the tournament. “This is our first taste of Rugby Union at this level of competition and we have already cemented a place in the Division 1 rankings. We will work hard over the next 12 months and we now realize exactly what must be done to win at this level. We look forward to taking on the top nations in Asia in the coming years, Philippines Rugby Union is here to stay”
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