The Philippine Volcanoes are through to the A5N Division II final by defeating Thailand 53-33 in a thrilling match played overnight in New Delhi. The lead changed several times in the first half with both teams scoring great tries and trading penalty goals. A converted try late in the half gave the Volcanoes some breathing space as they went into the break with a 29-16 lead.
The second half began with Thailand mounting sustained attacking pressure inside the Philippines’ half. Thailand’s star fullback Warangkorn Khamkoet surprisingly missed a drop gaol and two penalty goal attempts which would have narrowed the gap considerably. Once the Volcanoes managed to secure possession they were able to convert pressure to points and seemed to be coasting with 15 minutes to go. However, the Thailand team were extremely dangerous out wide and they scored two quick tries to come within two converted tries of a victory. The Volcanoes held strong and finished with late try to secure the semi-final win and continue their undefeated charge through the Asian 5 Nations competition.
On an historic night, the Volcanoes fielded a team comprised entirely of Filipino-heritage players. With a view to the future, national coach Expo Mejia named 7 new players in the squad of 22. The forward pack included 5 debutants, Phil Abraham, Jaime Urquijo, Ronald Fong, Chris Hitch and Michael de Guzman each of them having an outstanding game. Only 2 forwards retained their starting spot from last year, Austin Dacanay and Freddy Morris with Josh Sutcliffe returning after taking a year off.
The new look forward pack dominated the opposition from the start and provided a strong platform for the backs. Hooker Phil Abraham was named man of the match for his lineout throwing and strong ball carries making a number of decisive line breaks. Jaime Urquijo was not far behind with his dominant performance in the lineout and his mobility, strength and work rate and inspiration for the whole team. Chris Hitch was a constant threat at the breakdown and earned the praises of a number of A5N officials attending the game. Michael de Guzman scored a great forwards try in the first half and also produced the hit of the night with a bone rattling tackle. Assistant coach Jarred Hodges was pleased with the forwards’ performance. The Volcanoes scrum won a number of tight heads, the lineout was dominant, the driving maul was a real weapon and they outmuscled the opposition at the breakdown.
In the backs, 17 year old Ben Saunders made his run-on debut playing at inside centre in the middle of his two brothers, Oliver and Matthew. The three Saunders brothers proved a handful for the crafty Thailand backs as they combined beautifully to score 4 tries. Oliver Saunders organised the team brilliantly from flyhalf and also landed 8 out of 9 from the boot. Another set of brothers, halfback Jake Letts and fullback Michael Letts , produced strong games. Captain Michael Letts kicked superbly from general play and also made a number of line breaks. Wingers Kenny Stern and Harry Morris did well to contain the threats out wide. Harry Morris produced a memorable try by bumping off two players in one hit and racing down the wing to eventually score under the posts.
With temperatures reaching 40°C and a heavy dusty atmosphere to go with it, the Volcanoes looked to their bench in the second half. Kit Guerra, brothers Rupert and Raf Zappia and Kenzo West all contributed well in the forward pack. In the backs, Cleo Gomez and Justin Coveney ran on for their first international cap whilst the versatile Gareth Holgate did a good job on the wing.
The Volcanoes have a rest day today with a visit to the Taj Mahal. Team physiotherapist Damien Raper has done an amazing job in preparing the players with respect to their physical fitness. No stone was left unturned as Damien ensured the players nutritional, physical and hydration needs were all addressed. It will be a race against time to get the players fully recovered before Saturday night’s final against India. However, team manager Matthew Cullen, is quietly confident the Volcanoes can beat take out the title and earn promotion to Division I in the Asian 5 Nations.
For the full match report from ARFU please visit http://www.asian5nations.com/node/144
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