The Philippine National Development Team traveled to Kota Kinabalu to play their first ever International Rugby 15s match against the Sabah Regional Representative team. This was always going to be a close, hard game and it became very obvious on arrival at the Kota Kinabalu Hostel,where both teams were staying, that Sabah were out to win the game on their home soil. A majority of the Sabah Team have already played International Matches for the Malaysian Mens' team and they entered the game with both a size and experience advantage over the Philippine Team which had 12 players playing their first ever International game.
The game certainly had all the intensity that you would expect of an International Rugby Match and both teams held nothing back as they smashed into the first 20 minutes with some fierce tackles being made from both sides. The Philippines were led by some seasoned campaigners with Noel Flowers Jon Morales, Chris Hettel, Kit Guerra, John Odulio, David Carman and Daniel Melrose having all played for a Filipino Team in past games. These players certainly led the less experienced newcomers with passion and skill.
After 18 minutes, the Philippines were able to pin the Sabah Team in their own 22 meter zone. With John Odulio having a strong game in the second row and winning all his lineouts, the ball went wide to David Carman and he decided to take his opponent on the outside, David immediately outclassed his opposition and ran in to score the opening try of the game, this was converted by the Philippine Team Captain, Jon Morales to take the lead 7 - 0.
It wasn't long before the Sabah Team fought back and the Philippines Fullback, Noel "Daisy" Flowers, pulled off two try saving tackles to stop the Sabah boys from crossing the line in the second 20 minute period. Throughout this period, Sabah had the field advantage and the Philippines made some crucial errors in their quarter to put themselves under pressure, this directly led to Sabah swooping on a dropped pass and they scored just before halftime to take the score to 7 - 5.
The Sabah team came out firing in the third period and quickly scored to take a 12 - 7 lead and they started to use their size advantage in the forwards to control possession. Unfortunately for the Philippines, Kit Guerra had to leave the field with an ankle injury and he was replaced by Warren Carman who was playing his first game for the Philippines with his older brother David. At this point, the Philippines' two 17 year old forwards on the field, Daniel Melrose and Warren Carman, proved their worth as they showed a huge amount of courage and heart; playing in a heated contest with much bigger and more experienced men all around them.
Late in the third period the Philippines made a crucial error in their own quarter and gave up possession to allow the Sabah team to power over for another try. The Philippines seemed to be their own worst enemy and it was the less experienced newcomers that have now learned how vital it is to control possession and exit the red zone when under pressure. Noel Flowers once again made a try saving tackle and held up the ball with a much bigger opponent trying to force the ball over his body which was courageously placed between the Sabah No 8 and the ground. The Philippines did not give up and with 5 minutes left in the game they came storming back to force the Sabah team into making a mistake. Jon Morales was quick to pounce on this and linked up with David Carman who scored his second try taking two Sabah opponents over the line and bringing the Philippines back into the game at 19 - 14. The Philippines were then pinned in their own 10 meter zone and relentlessly saved three try attempts on their own line. When time ran out, everyone on the field was absolutely exhausted in what was one of the most passionate and physical games any of the Philippine National teams have witnessed.
At the end of the day all 24 Filipino players were able to take part in the game and the objective to introduce new development players into the game at an International level was certainly achieved. Sabah have agreed to play a return match in the Philippines later in 2011.
National team coach Matt Cullen stated that "I am confident that the Philippines will turn around this result and obviously our new players will have learned a lot about playing at this new intensity level. Home advantage is always a factor in Rugby matches and congratulations to Sabah for winning the first leg of the International series on their home soil."
John Odulio was awarded the best forward and he played above his weight and won every lineout he was thrown. Best back went to the 2-try hero David Carman who was certainly well supported by Jon Morales and Aaron Briddon.
The Philippine Development team will now be a permanent feature of all the PRFU National teams and this program will provide young up and coming players who have learned and play their Rugby here in the Philippines with the competition to push for a spot in the National Men's 15s team that will compete in the A5N division 1 tournament this June in Korea.
The PRFU is looking forward to hosting the Sabah Rugby Union here in the Philippines and also making these games an annual feature that helps to promote and develop International Rugby Union in the region.
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