THE Philippine rugby team tries to move on from its recent heartbreaks as it presses its bid for survival in the Asian 5 Nations series.
Coming off two huge losses — a 0-108 decision to Hong Kong and a 10-99 setback to Japan — the Volcanoes target their first victory in the top flight of Asian 15s rugby as they face Sri Lanka in Colombo on May 17 before returning home to host South Korea on May 25.
The continent’s seventh-ranked squad, the Volcanoes are hoping to remain in the top tier after making their debut last year. But keeping their coveted spot is definitely harder this year with the new format reducing the top-tier teams from five to just three, taking effect next year.
Starting their 15s campaign with two consecutive losses didn’t help, although that hardly dampens the Filipino booters’ hopes as they will get a major boost against Sri Lanka with the return of five key players, including former long-time skipper Michael Letts and vice-captain Chris Hitch, as well as head coach Stu Woodhouse.
“We find our team for the next two weeks a lot stronger,” scrum-half Jake Letts said on Wednesday. “The performance will definitely increase.”
Oliver Saunders will captain the national side, which is also using the continental 15s tournament as part of its preparations for the upcoming Asian Games, where Sevens rugby is played.
The Philippines turned back Sri Lanka, 28-18, in their last meeting two years ago at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, a crucial Division 1 (second tier) match that propelled the Filipinos to the top flight.
And they meet again in another vital skirmish on the opponent’s turf this time.
“It’s a must-win for us,” Woodhouse said of the match against Sri Lanka, which is the lowest ranked among the Volcanoes’ four foes.
The Filipinos then cap off their stint against South Korea in their new home pitch at the South Plains field in Laguna, just off the Silangan exit of SLEX.