After a historic debut stint in the Rugby Sevens World Cup in 2013, the Philippine Volcanoes turn their sights on the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, Korea, seeking an explosive performance that hopefully lands them on the podium.
One of only three entries in team sports in the Phl delegation (the others being Gilas Pilipinas and the Phl Blu Girls), the Volcanoes Sevens look to sustain the gains from their previous sorties to hit pay-dirt on their first stint in the quadrennial continental meet.
“Our target has always been to finish in the Top 3, said Matt Cullen, Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU )Director for Rugby. “We’re happy that our top players are available for the Asian Games and are flying in from all over the world. In terms of skill, we can compete. It really is just a question of being able to bring it all together in the time that we have to prepare.”
The Volcanoes Sevens easily got the go-signal from the Philippine Olympic Committee-Philippine Sports Commission Asiad Task Force to join Team Phl to Incheon owing to their solid showing the previous years.
They finished in the Top 3 in the Asian Sevens Series in 2012, consequently making history as the first Phl squad to qualify for the Sevens World Cup held in Russia the following year. Then in 2013, they wound up fifth in the Asian Sevens Series.
Such results have given chef de mission Richie Garcia the confidence in the Volcanoes, whom he has consistently listed among the possible medal contenders.
“We have beaten the heavyweight teams in Asia before and it’s an honor to have the support from the POC and to be recognized as potential medal hopefuls. The Volcanoes have proven in the past they have what it takes to finish in the top 3 with finishing silver in Borneo in 2011 and bronze in 2012,” said Cullen.
“The pressure is more about being able to unlock our team’s potential at the right time,” said team captain Jake Letts. “We know that when we have a strong team, we can match it with the best in Asia. It’s really about being able to deliver when it matters most.”
The Volcanoes will kick off their campaign against China and fellow World Cup campaigner and 2010 Asiad silver medalist Hong Kong on Sept. 30 then cap their assignment in Pool B the following day against Pakistan, hoping to pile up wins to make it to the quarterfinal round.
Three-peat-seeking Japan leads the nations in Pool A and is joined by Malaysia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. Host Korea, whom the Volcanoes had nosed out for the third and last berth to the World Cup, banners Pool C with Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, and Lebanon.
The toughest contenders are always going to be Hong Kong and Japan, they’re the super powers in Asian Rugby,” said Cullen.
“Admittedly we have a difficult opening Pool game against China who will field a strong side. This game is a must win for us if we are to have a favorable finals run the following day. As long as we can play consistently well, we can really challenge teams like Korea and Sri Lanka for a Top 3 finish,” Letts said.
The core of the World Cup team – Letts, Andrew Wolff, Justin Coveney, Gareth Holgate, Kenneth Stern and Oliver and Matthew Saunders – will be donning the Phl colors in Incheon along with Chris Hitch, Ben Saunders, James Price and Alex Aronson.
“Because the players are not all based in the Philippines, the team is always challenged as we don’t have the luxury of preparing for months in advance like other teams. We will have limited time training together as a full team, however we have a top-notch coach in Al Caraveli and a team with lots of experience. We look to form combinations and a game plan that is suited to this squad and perform at a high level,” said Cullen.