The Philippines Volcanoes will be banking on home advantage as they bid to maintain their top position among the second-tier of Asian rugby when they host the Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 tournament in Manila from 6-9 May.
The brand new 25,000-seater Philippine Stadium in Bulacan, 30 minutes outside the capital, will give the Volcanoes the edge and energy in the battle for supremacy over Sri Lanka, Singapore and Kazakhstan according to Matt Cullen.
“Playing at home always gives you a seven to 10-point advantage I believe, and we are expecting large crowds to come and support the guys at this new stadium. This support will be invaluable,” said Cullen, director of rugby for the Philippines Rugby Football Union.
Volcanoes captain Oliver Saunders was also excited at the prospect of playing in front of the passionate home fans at the new venue which is hosting its first major international sporting event.
“We’re very excited to be back playing on home soil,” said Saunders. “The prospect of playing in front of our countrymen, friends and relatives never fails to pump up the team. It’s a special feeling to feel and hear the crowd’s support and this will definitely push us to do better.”
The Volcanoes are top seeds in the four-team tournament that will feature a semi-final round – Philippines versus Singapore, and Sri Lanka taking on Kazakhstan – with the winners meeting in the final.
The Philippines and Sri Lanka were both part of the Asian 5 Nations Top Five last year while Kazakhstan and Singapore also boast Top Five credentials in recent seasons, making this year’s Division 1 tournament one of the most competitive groupings assembled since the inception of the Asian 5 Nations in 2008.
In last year’s tournament, the Volcanoes pipped Sri Lanka 27-26 – benefiting from successfully being able to re-take a conversion of a last-gasp try after Sri Lanka had prematurely charged a failed first attempt – to finish fourth behind Japan, Hong Kong and Korea.
In 2015 both Sri Lanka and the Philippines were relegated due to the revamped format where the premier division is now reserved for the top three sides - Japan, Hong Kong and Korea, playing in a home-and-away format.
"We need to be in a competition which is not one-sided and that is what Division 1 will offer this year."
Cullen supported the move by the Asian Rugby Football Union: “There is no joy in getting beaten by 80, 90 points by the likes of Japan and Hong Kong. It doesn’t do anything to help the development of the game. We need to be in a competition which is not one-sided and that is what Division 1 will offer this year.”
The Volcanoes face fourth-ranked Singapore on Wednesday (kick-off 16:00 local time) after Sri Lanka take on Kazakhstan..
The last time Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan met was in Colombo in 2013 when Sri Lanka prevailed by 49-18 with full-back Reza Mubarak accounting for 19 points. Mubarak is included in a Sri Lanka squad that contains seven uncapped players.
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