THE Philippine rugby team starts its buildup for the Asian 5 Nations Top Five next month in the hope of keeping its coveted spot in the top flight of the premier 15-a-side tournament in the continent.
With more homegrown booters on the side, the Volcanoes, who finished fourth to avoid relegation last year, embark on a six-week local training camp ahead of their first match on April 26 against second-ranked Hong Kong.
The Volcanoes then face defending champion Japan on May 3, Sri Lanka on May 17, before capping their campaign against Korea on May 24.
“We want to maintain the Volcanoes’ top-level status,” Philippine Rugby Football Union technical director Matt Cullen said on Tuesday in a press conference inside the University of Makati.
While other standouts are still training in top rugby nations such as Japan, Australia, and England, some Volcanoes who are based in Manila have started to train, including forward/flanker Chris Hettel and winger Paulo Jordan, both products of the country’s developmental program.
“It’s not the case two years ago. Now, we’re starting to develop players,” the English mentor said as he introduced both players along with celebrity and national 7s team veteran Andrew Wolff.
Further underlining the importance of grassroots development, the Volcanoes have started to teach the less-brutal version of the sport in Touch Rugby to schools, including UMak as the school's varsity touch rugby teams are vying for top honors in the ongoing Association of Local Colleges and Universities (ALCU) Games.
“Touch rugby is a great sport to introduce to the schools. It’s a very useful sport across the board,” Wolff said.
In exchange, UMak has allowed the national team to use the city-funded school’s facilities for training and competition.
In fact, the UMak pitch is set to be the venue for the Volcanoes’ two home games in the A5N against Japan and Korea.
“This says a lot of the development of the sport,” UMak secretary Elyxzar Ramos said. “We’re proud to be part of the development.”