Rugby: Philippine Volcanoes gut out win over UAE, stay in Asian top flight

The Philippines (in blue) were too much for UAE. Image copyright Bob Guerrero. Unauthorized commercial use of this …

It wasn't pretty, but it was what the Philippines needed: a win to keep their 2015 World Cup dream alive.

On Saturday night the Philippine Volcanoes hacked out a scrappy but gutsy brownout-marred 24-8 victory over UAE at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in front of hundreds of enthusiastic fans.

With the triumph the Volcanoes finish fourth in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Elite Division behind champs Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea Republic. That means they remain in the top tier of Asian Rugby and can still qualify for the 2015 World Cup in England.

The Gulf nation is relegated to the second-tier Division One and will be replaced in the top tier by Sri Lanka.

The Philippines scored four tries from Christopher Hitch, Gareth Holgate, Graeme Hagan, and Matt Saunders.

Hitch began the scoring in the tenth minute by peeling off a ruck near the tryline and bursting over for a score. Alex Aronson's conversion attempt from a tough angle was just wide.

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Five minutes later Holgate, playing on the wing, got on the scoresheet by exploiting a UAE turnover and racing in untouched. Aronson's conversion was true for a 12-0 score.

Joey Matthews nearly made it 17-0 seven minutes before the half but he was tackled out of bounds just short of the corner flag.

But UAE bounced back just before the halftime whistle. They picking up a try of their own from an unidentified player who got downward pressure past the line off a rolling maul. Andrew Russell's conversion from near the touchline was no good. The UAE place kicker had a rough night, missing his first four kicks wide left.

UAE looked threatening again after the restart when Russel booted through a short penalty to cut the deficit to 12-8.

The game continued to see-saw, with basic mistakes being made at almost every turn. UAE lost four lineouts on their throw, the Volcanoes at least three.

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Just before the hour mark the Volcanoes got some breathing room when hooker Graeme Hagan trotted in for a score from close range off a handoff from scrum half Jake Letts.

Letts played for the injured James Price and is the Volcanoes' all-time leader in caps.

With just over three minutes remaining the lights on top of the Rizal Memorial grandstand abruptly shut down, just as they had in the Azkals Challenge Cup qualifying match with Cambodia recently.

After a delay of about fifteen minutes the game was restarted with only the light towers behind the bleachers illuminating the field.

Saunders punctuated the win with a fine individual try, slaloming past the weary UAE defense for a score under the sticks. After punching the air the all-time leading Volcano try-scorer was engulfed by his overjoyed team mates.

The game ended with yet another bizarre twist. While Aronson attempted the final chip-shot conversion the ball fell off the tee. A UAE player who was trying to charge down the kick ran into the fly half, then seemed to immediately apologize after.

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It was then decided that the Philippines would not take the non-bearing kick and the teams then shook hands.

Coach Jarred Hodges praised the healthy crowd, calling them “amazing.” He also affirmed their presence in the Asian top five.

“We know we belong in the top flight of Asia. But we're not happy with fourth. We want to push for that second slot and get that World Cup berth.”

The 2014 A5N Elite Division champ automatically qualifies for the 2015 World Cup while the second-place team enters a four-team single-elimination “repechage” tournament for the last slot.

Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333. Follow the Volcanoes @PhilippineRugby.