Standings: Japan 4-0; Hong Kong 2-1; South Korea 2-1; Philippines 0-3; UAE 0-3
SURVIVAL over surge, for now.
The Philippine rugby team, considered as the fastest-rising rugby squad in Asia, tries to avoid relegation from the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top Five competition when it battles United Arab Emirates on Saturday at the close of the tournament at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
In their last and probably strongest chance to extend for at least another year their stay in a tournament featuring the top five rugby teams in Asia, the Volcanoes face a similar winless team in the Arabs at 7 p.m. with the loser getting demoted to Division 1.
It will be the second time the Filipinos will play in front of the home crowd after they bowed to Hong Kong, 20-59, two weeks ago in a match where the hosts faltered after building an early lead.
The Volcanoes did deliver a stronger finish in their next game, but had a poor start in their 62-19 defeat at the hands of Korea last week.
Volcanoes coach Jarred Hodges, who missed the Hong Kong game due to a family emergency in Australia, stressed that consistency throughout will be the key for the Filipinos.
“We have improved week on week, but it is now time to string two forty-minute halves together,” the Australian mentor said. “We know that if we can compete for eighty minutes, we’re going to win more games than we lose.”
With the return of veterans Phil Abraham, Michael de Guzman, Nick Perry, and Jake Ward from injury, Hodges is even more upbeat of his team’s chances.
“I’m confident that this week at home, people are going to see a different side. We have made a few personnel changes that will strengthen us. I think we will surprise people.”
The Volcanoes, though, will be facing a bigger and more experienced UAE squad that is familiar to this kind of situation, having been victorious in past relegation battles.
While a win is necessary, a loss will definitely not hamper the development of the sport in the country, said Hodge.
“The relegation match is obviously important in terms of what happens next year. But is it the be-all and end-all? No it’s not,” Hodges said.
“Philippine rugby has got a stronghold and is growing all the time in the country. We’ll continue beyond next year whatever the result may be. But we would like to make sure that we continue in the top flight – that is for sure.”
Japan, which has secured the top spot after going unbeaten in its four matches, has clinched the lone automatic berth to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Hong Kong and South Korea are battling for second place, which stakes a ticket to a knockout tournament among the runners-up in each continent for the 20th and final slot in the World Cup.