THE national rugby team’s quest for recognition and redemption continues on Saturday night when the Volcanoes host Hong Kong in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Top Five Division at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
The Volcanoes collide with the regional powehouse at 7 p.m. in their first-ever home game in the top flight seeking to atone for their deflating 0-121 away loss to perennial champion Japan two weeks ago.
Arguably the fastest-rising rugby team in the region, the Volcanoes are in their first stint in Division 1 of the six-week competition, after playing in Division 4 only a few years ago.
“Against Japan, we didn’t have an expectation we were going to win. That’s a fact,” Volcanoes assistant coach Stu Woodhouse said in the pre-match press conference on Friday.
“(But the game against Hong Kong is) important because the more exposure we get at this high level and players get better, that’s going to be good for the community. They’ll see the game. They’ll recognize the game. Getting the crowd familiar with the sport is important.”
Despite having the home-field advantage, the Volcanoes remain the underdogs against Hong Kong. Whatever the outcome, however, the game is considered a milestone as the team continues to spread awareness of the sport.
“It’s not just about facing Hong Kong. It’s taking the game to the people. That’s what it’s about,” said Woodhouse, who will take over the coaching reins temporarily in lieu of head coach Jarred Hodges, who had to go back to Australia due to a family emergency.
Volcanoes skipper Michael Letts, who has been with the team since it's difficult beginnings, is relishing the opportunity to be competing against Asia's big boys.
“We always had a goal to make the Top Five and it’s quite surreal that it happened so quickly," said Letts. "But now that we’re here, we don’t want to just come up and get relegated. We want to remain competitive and stay up here.”
The 28-year-old Filipino-Australian is especially looking forward to bouncing back from the defeat at the hands of the Japanese.
“They’ve been the second-best side in Asia for as long as I can remember so Hong Kong is gonna be very difficult. They’re a big, mobile side, probably bigger than us. We’ll try to run them around the park. We’ll try to play an up-tempo game,” he said.