The Philippine Volcanoes are out to win the Asian Rugby Championship Division 1 crown, hoping to bank on home field advantage and crowd support in the four-nation meet slated May 6 and 9 at the new Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.
The top-ranked team in the competition, the Volcanoes battle the Singaporeans on opening day at 4 p.m. while Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan mix it up at 2 p.m.
Winners in the opening day will advance to the championship match set three days later while the losers will dispute bronze.
“Although we’re currently the top seeds in Division 1, this will by no means be a walk in the park,” Matt Cullen, director of Rugby for the Philippine Rugby Football Union said during the PSA Forum at Shakey’s Malate on Tuesday.
"This is the first time that Division 1 will feature four teams that were all formerly part of the top 5 Elite Division, making this a highly competitive group. The other teams will be just as ready to take that crown,” he added.
The ARC is the premiere 15-aside tournament in Asia, taking over the Asian 5 Nations. Under the restructured tourney, the Elite Division has been trimmed from five nations to three – Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea – while No. 4 Phl and No. 5 Sri Lanka were relegated to Division 1.
"Unlike two year ago when we were ranked no. 4, we're ranked first now in ARC Division 1 and we're hosting with the view off winning the tournament," said Cullen.
For this campaign, the Volcanoes have called up overseas-based pros like Oliver Saunders and his brothers Matthew and Ben, Justin Coveney, Alex Aronson and Gareth Holgate.
The Volcanoes are also leaning on their 16th man - the home crowd - at the 25,000-seater PSS.
"Playing in such a stadium in front of the home crowd will surely pump up the team and inspire us to put our best foot forward and bring Philippine rugby on the map," said Jake Letts.
The Volcanoes are looking to sustain the momentum from their quick rise to the elite level, a feat highlighted by the first stint in 50 years for a Filipino team in the World Cup in 2013 at the Rugby Sevens WC.
Its men's sevens crew also placed fifth overall in last year's Asian Games and targets no less than a gold in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games.