Teams ready for RWC Qualifiers in Manila
- Sri Lanka, Philippines, Singapore, Chinese Taipei begin the process in Manila
- Volcanoes highlight the success of the RWC pathway for all teams
- Webb Ellis Cup on display in Manila
To cries of “Sige na!” the Philippines will take the field at Rizal Memorial Stadium on Sunday night ready to take this fledgling Rugby nation to the next level. Nothing less than victory against Singapore will satisfy the home support or this ambitious and talented team.
Having only become an IRB Member in late 2008, the Philippines’ rise through the ranks in Asia has been nothing short of astonishing. Winning promotion through the divisions of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (A5N) became routine and, indeed, statistically the Volcanoes are the most successful team in the history of the competition apart from perennial champions Japan.
“It just goes to show that every team has a well-defined pathway towards the top,” said Philippines team manager Matt Cullen, who took a break from marking the lines on the pitch and erecting the goal posts to talk to media.
These matches are the first Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers in the Asia Region and IRB Council Member Koji Tokumasu will be in the crowd to offer official IRB support for the series. Also in attendance will be the RWC trophy itself, the iconic Webb Ellis Cup.
Clear pathway in place for all 80 teams
While there is one direct place available at England 2015 via the Asia qualification process for the winners of the 2014 HSBC Asian 5 Nations, there is a second bite of the cherry for the runners-up who will move on to the Repechage. Should an Asian team progress via this pathway to RWC 2015 it will be the first time two representatives from the region have competed at a Rugby World Cup.
“It is great for developing Unions to know they are part of the Rugby World Cup. We only joined the IRB recently and within a space of three years we are now competing on the international stage and part of the RWC qualification structure. It’s phenomenal really,” said Cullen.
“The A5N and the IRB are bringing Rugby to the Philippines in a big way and with these matches being televised all over the country, it is a great advertisement for the sport,” said Cullen.
While it’s one thing to progress through the lower divisions, Cullen has noticed the standard has really stepped up now they are in Division 1. Last year’s defeat away to Korea, while disappointing, showed the team what they must do in order to reach Asia’s elite Top Five.
Philippines are ready for the next level
“We learned a lot from that defeat. We made a lot of errors in that game and the players know that. The good thing is that if we cut out the errors and concentrate on doing the basics well, we will be very competitive this week. It helps that we have a good player-retention rate – about 90 per cent of last year’s team are still with us.
“Home advantage is huge for us. We have been playing away from home for the past three years so to welcome these other teams to Manila is a great honour for us. I think this division is very competitive. Having come down from the Top Five last year, Sri Lanka are rightly ranked number one but we believe we can win this tournament and I’m sure Singapore and Chinese Taipei believe that as well.
“For the fans and the television viewers, we’re hoping that the final game of the tournament (Philippines v Sri Lanka on Saturday 21 April) will be the decider but we have a lot of work to do before then to make sure that is the case.”
For the IRB this tournament represents the early stages of a process that involves 80 teams, 184 matches and around 3,000 players all over the globe. With eight places at RWC 2015 in England up for grabs, each of those teams has the opportunity to take to the biggest stage in the Game.
IRB identifies Asia as a Region of great potential
IRB Regional General Manager for Asia Jarrad Gallagher said: “Asia is a Region of enormous potential and with RWC 2019 coming here, it is an incredibly exciting time for the Game. Roughly 60 per cent of the world’s youths live in Asia so we are tapping into that. Over the past four years, we have seen an 18 per cent increase in playing numbers and we believe that growth will continue.”
“The IRB, working in partnership with ARFU, is investing more than GBP 9 million in Asia between 2009-2012 and is committed to ensuring that more men, women and children have the opportunity to experience and engage with the sport as the region prepares to host its first Rugby World Cup when Japan welcomes the world in 2019.”
New Sri Lanka coach Phil Greening has been impressed with the attitude of his charges since taking over the role a month ago. The former England hooker has inherited a young team without most of the players who were relegated from the Top Five last season.
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“We do lack a bit of experience in the squad but this is a talented young side and the way they have unified together has been great,” said Greening.
“We expect a tough tournament with plenty of difficult competition. The A5N and the IRB have done great work to develop Rugby in Asia and it means the quality is improving all the time. We don’t expect it to be easy but we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could win.”
“My job in Sri Lanka Rugby is to develop the structures on and off the field from top to bottom. I’m very much enjoying my time in Sri Lanka and I think this job will be very good for me and my development as a coach,” he said.
Included in the Sri Lanka squad are brothers Namel and Yositha Rajapaksa, who play for Navy RFC in Colombo and are the sons of Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Apart from a bolstering of security around the team, Greening says there is no real difference as they are as much part of the team as the other players.
Sri Lanka’s opposition in the first game will be Chinese Taipei, a team Greening knows from following the sevens circuit.
“They will be quick, athletic, very well-drilled and we will need to be at our best to beat them,” he said.
Chinese Taipei captain confident of winning
Chinese Taipei have been in a training camp for nearly a month and vice-captain David Wu is confident his side will win the tournament.
“Of course we will win,” said Wu with a smile. “Our goal is to win, that’s what we intend to do. It will be very difficult but it is certainly possible,” said the 24-year-old hooker.
“Sri Lanka are a big, strong team with good energy but I played them at under-19 level a few years ago and we beat them then so I think we can do it tomorrow. We have prepared well for this and we’re really looking forward to it. We are ready.”
Singapore’s players are coming off the back of a long, tough club season and, by their own admission, have not had the preparation time they would have liked. But with a strong, solid pack and a young, fast backline they feel they will be in with an outside chance of victory.
“We know we are the underdogs at this tournament,” said captain Jonathan Lee.
“We have not had enough time to prepare everything but we have been working hard on our set plays and we have a top coach (technical director Des Thornton). We are strong and full of enthusiasm,” said the 26-year-old openside flanker.
“Sri Lanka and Philippines, in particular, are strong teams – we recognise that. But we are definitely here to win and we have been doing our homework on the other sides so we have a game plan set out for each of them,” he added.
HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division 1, April 15-21, Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila (Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier)
Sunday April 15
17:00 Sri Lanka v Chinese Taipei
19:00 Philippines v Singapore
Wednesday April 18
17:00 Sri Lanka v Singapore
19:00 Philippines v Chinese Taipei
Saturday April 21
17:00 Singapore v Chinese Taipei
19:00 Philippines v Sri Lanka
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