AFTER an intense seven weeks of competition, the Philippine Volcanoes have achieved what only they knew was possible -- qualification into the 2019 Hong Kong Sevens, the premier tournament on the World Sevens Series competition.
The Volcanoes, powered by Globe Telecom, found themselves in the final stage of the three-leg 2018 Asia Sevens Series in Sri Lanka this weekend, needing no less than a Bronze medal finish to clinch overall third place in the series behind powerhouses Japan and Hong Kong.
The first day saw the Volcanoes up against Asian Games bronze medalists Korea where an in-form Philippine team came up with a convincing 34-5 victory. In the second match, the Volcanoes were up against archrivals from Southeast Asia and current SEA Games gold medalists Malaysia, with the Volcanoes holding on to win, 24-19. Despite the win, the Volcanoes didn’t come away unscathed, losing four players to injuries and a suspension to Vincent Amar Young for an accidental high-ball collision.
On day two, three players were ruled unavailable, with Mark Mapacpac Roberts and Robert Luceno Fogerty out from an accidental head collision, while Young still needed to serve his two-game suspension from his Saturday infraction. This, however, did not stop the fire the Volcanoes had within, as they strung together three consistently good performances against the best Asia has to offer. The Volcanoes led the No. 1-ranked team and overall champions, Japan, 12-7 early into the second half, matching efforts for majority of the match until falling in the last play of the game which ended, 21-12, in favor of the champions.
With a 2-1 win-loss standing, the Volcanoes progressed to the semifinals where they faced second seeds, Hong Kong. In another valiant display, the Volcanoes showed true grit, almost forcing one of the biggest upsets of the season with Hong Kong needing to score in the final seconds to secure their spot in the grand final. The 19-12 loss was heartbreaking for the Volcanoes but also showed them that they could pose a serious challenge to the best teams in Asia.
The final match of the day was written to script; the Philippines faced the tournament hosts Sri Lanka Tuskers for a spot in the Top 3. Both teams were on equal points on the ladder and both had an even head-to-head record over the course of the series. The Tuskers defeated the Volcanoes in round 1 in Hong Kong, the Volcanoes got their retribution in round 2 in Korea two weeks later and they now faced each other for the third and final time to decide who takes the last ticket to the 2019 Hong Kong Sevens and a chance to qualify for the World Series. The Volcanoes saved their best performance for last, securing a 19-7 victory over the hometown heroes.
“It’s an amazing feeling! We knew we had the team to do it but to play with only 8 fit players against the top teams in Asia and to perform the way we did -- I’m over the moon and so proud of the boys” shared Volcanoes Captain Christopher Arpon Bird.
The Volcanoes finish 2018 in third place in Asia, and currently sit in first place amongst their southeast Asian neighbors, an achievement nothing short of remarkable according to their General Manager, Jake Letts.
“It’s a special feeling for the team, they deserve it. The coaching staff and players have worked so hard for a very long period of time. It has taken years to get back to this point. The way they performed – I have only the upmost respect for what they achieved and can continue to achieve. Credit goes to all involved, past and present, sponsors, our staff and Executive Board and the entire Philippine Rugby community,” Letts added.
It has taken the Volcanoes six years to return to the world’s elite, last qualifying for the Hong Kong 7s in 2012 and reaching the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, Russia, a year later. Since then, the Volcanoes have tirelessly battled it out amongst Asia’s best for the chance to once again compete with the world’s best teams.
The result will be etched into the history books, marking a special occasion for Philippine Rugby who has their sites on growth and development in the years to come.