In the 2nd of our ‘State of the Union’ articles, ahead of Sunday’s opening matches in the 2017 Asia Rugby Championship Division 1/RWC 2019 Qualifier in Malaysia, we focus on the Philippines. (Philippines Volcanoes)
It may surprise new readers that the Philippines have already been to a Rugby World Cup. The union impressively qualified for the 2013 Rugby World Cup 7’s in Russia as Asia’s 3rd ranked team behind Japan and Hong Kong, surprising a number of other Asian unions.
With just over 16,000 registered and unregistered players across 25 schools and 19 clubs, and with numbers growing through energetic development programs such as the Pass It Back programme, the Philippines’ heights in Men’s 15’s and 7’s rugby is due to their somewhat unique advantage – amongst Asia’s 30 unions – of being able to supplement their home grown talent with the best players from the massive, 10 million plus, Filipino diaspora across the world. The union has a database of over 50 players, many of whom play a decent level of club Rugby, or more in Tier 1 and 2 Rugby countries. They are the PRFU’s Overseas “Heritage” players, who form the bulk of the Volcanoes squad at this time every year.
The standard of the Philippines Men’s international teams is categorical evidence of the success of this selection policy. It also helps to raise the profile of the Game domestically and attract fans and, crucially, sponsorship. A number of the Rugby team are attractive to advertisers and it’s not unusual to look up at enormous billboards around Manila and see the Rugby stars advertising local products, or feature in the Philippines’ bubbling digital and social media space and on Reality TV.
A number of national team players over the years have had professional contracts in Japan. Because of their Philippines passports, the Japanese clubs can class them as ‘Overseas Asian’ players under a quota system.
Asia Rugby spoke to the PRFU’s General Manager, Matt Cullen, on his thoughts for the team’s prospects in Malaysia next week. Matt told Asia Rugby: “Our squad is similar strength to last year’s, which came 3rd in a very close league, with everyone suffering at least 1 loss over their 3 matches each.
We’ve brought back a number of our experienced overseas Filipinos to help boost the squad, such as Ollie Saunders (West Harbour Pirates, Sydney), Mike Duhig from Brothers in Brisbane – John Eales’ former club – and Patrice Olivier, who plays professionally for Tokyo Gas in Japan.
We also have some new guys making their debuts in 15’s. Ricky Kucia and Ned Stephenson (both West Harbour Pirates) featured in our 7’s program at the start of the year and helped us to win the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy in Qatar in February for promotion back to the Asia Rugby Sevens Series later this year.
Kevin Gordon has played professional League for the Gold Coast Titans and looks to be an excellent place kicker amongst other skill sets he brings as a centre, whilst Gerald Tulud (Akarana Eagles, Auckland) is new to our backrow.”
As a start to their preparation, the union’s ‘Residents XV’ – a more locally based squad awaiting the arrival of many overseas based players – beat a Singapore XV 29-17 in Manila on 22 April, with the Singapore team, which plays in ARC Division 2, featuring almost all of its national team players. Nine of the Philippines team that day earned selection into the squad to Malaysia.
SPI Volcanoes National team coach, David Johnston, who is also Coach of the country’s strongest club, Eagles RFC said: “Our SPI 15s domestic competition is growing every year. The win over Singapore played a crucial role for some members into selection for the ARC.”
Johnston has brought in overseas expertise for the squad’s preparation in the form of Stu Woodhouse from the Eastwood club in Sydney, whilst former Super Rugby Waratahs Head Coach, Chris Hickey will be Assistant Coach during the tournament, where his technical experience from past roles also in Tonga and Japan will no doubt be invaluable.
Backbone of the squad over many years and national team player, Jake Letts said: “It’s going to be an exciting tournament. All teams are very evenly matched. Hopefully we can jell well, like we always do and get together our game plan, so that we can be successful over in Malaysia.”
The World Rugby 57th ranked Volcanoes’ take on
Sri Lanka (40th) on May 14
Malaysia (54th) on May 17
UAE (72nd) on May 21.
All matches can be viewed live on www.rugbypass.com in Asia.
Astro TV and Astro HD In Malaysia
SKY new Zealand Rugby TV 64 In new Zealand
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SPI Philippines Volcanoes Squad
1 Austin Garnica Dacanay (Tampa Krew RFC, Florida, USA)
2 Aldrin Deposoy Mercado (Oldham Rugby Club, Singapore)
3 Masayuki Sekiguchi (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)
4 Michael Estrada Duhig (Brothers RC, Brisbane, Australia)
5 Philip Benares Abraham (Abu Dhabi Harlequins, UAE)
6 David Paz Robinson-Polkey (SC Frankfurt 1880 Rugby, Germany)
7 Eric Cruz Erickson (Casuarina Cougars, NT, Australia)
8 Ray Conrad Laforteza (Chicago Ducks Rugby Football Club, USA)
9 Steve Pagtalunan Howorth (Dorking RFC, England)
10 David Feeney (Manila Nomads, Manila, Philippines)
11 Ashley Matias Heward (Brighton Blues, Brighton, England)
12 Chris Anderson (Manila Nomads, Manila, Philippines)
13 Terrence Javier Carroll (Noosa Pirates, QLD, Australia)
14 Benjamin Priagola Mudie (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)
15 Gerald Zamora Tulud (Akarana Eagles, Auckland, New Zealand)
16 Edlen Cortez Hernandez (Manila Nomads, Manila, Philippines)
17 Joe Palabay Dawson (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)
18 Jake Robrigado Letts (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)
19 Oliver Abalos Saunders (West Harbour Pirates, NSW, Australia)
20 Justin Villazor Coveney (Makati Chiefs, Manila, Philippines)
21 Jovan Reyes Masalunga (Clark Jets, Subic, Philippines)
22 Daniel Ricky Kucia (West Harbour Pirates, NSW, Australia)
23 Timothy Bweheni (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)
24 Ned Plarizan Stephenson (West Harbour Pirates, NSW, Australia)
25 Harry Dionson Morris (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)
26 Kevin Sysu Gordon (Gold Coast, QLD, Australia)
27 Patrice Ortiz Olivier (Tokyo Gas, Japan)
28 Francis Tagalia (Eagles RFC, Manila, Philippines)