The Philippine Volcanoes took the Division 2 ARFU title at their first attempt in emphatic fashion in Delhi today with a 34-12 victory over the hosts, India.
Although the final victory was a three try to two triumph, the gallant Indian team were restricted to scoring at the beginning of the game and at the end of the game, but for the intervening periods the Philippines dominated both territory and possession.
The beginning of the game was marked by gusts of sand and dust which knocked down some of the hoardings surrounding the brand new rugby pitch at Delhi University. An enthusiastic local crowd cheered on the local team and the intial exchanges were very physical. After an early penalty kicked by Oliver Saunders, the Indian pack took the ball from a lineout in their own 22 and trundled the Philippines pack backwards for an emphatic forwards' try. However, the remainder of the first half involved the Volcanoes applying tremendous pressure on the Indians in all parts of the field and this led to a string of penalties, duly converted by the Philippine No. 10 and just before half time the lead had been extended to 15-7, by virtue of five penalties. In a crucial period of the match Matt Saunders, who had a strong tournament, went in for a five-pointer out wide, improved his position and the resulting conversion allowed the Philippine team to take a 22-7 lead into the half-time break. The first half had been punctuated with low crunching tackles by the fourth-ranked team on their larger opponents, but the game was still up for grabs.
As was the case on Wednesday evening the third period of play proved critical to the ultimate outcome of the match. The Indian team raised their game after the main break and running with a strong wind at their backs the Volcanoes were forced to defend stoutly. Eventually the early rhythm of the match returned and strong forward play by the Philippines eventually created time and space for the backs to work their moves and most of the backline were involved when Ken Stern galloped over the try line, almost immediately before the last water-break. Although not converted, that score gave the Philippines a 27-7 advantage with twenty minutes remaining. As with the match on Wednesday evening, the entire bench of the Volcanoes were used and a second try to Stern (converted by Saunders) left the Philippines in a very comfortable position before the Indians scored a consolation try towards the end of the match, again through their bullocking forwards.
Once the hooter sounded the Volcanoes "erupted" and that marked the beginning of a celebration which continued onto the bus and ended (at least in India!) after the brief ceremonies back at the hotel. Michael Letts proudly accepted the shield from rugby legend, Rory Underwood, and thanked our hosts for a wonderful, unique experience for the touring victors. In the match, Chris Hitch and Michael De Guzman were stand-outs in the loose and Oli Saunders' superb kicking calmed the nerves of the handful of Volcanoes' supporters. Huge congratulations to all players and to coaches Expo Mejia and Jarred Hodges, physio, Damian Raper and Team Manager, Matt Cullen. Their calmness and professionalism certainly rubbed off on the players.
Next year Division 1 awaits, but a storm of another sort is approaching the Philippines in the shape of a group of hard-working and dedicated lads who are ready to party, after the completion of a difficult mission faithfully completed!
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