The Philippines have been crowned the first HSBC Asian Five Nations Regional Tournament winners after beating host nation Guam 20–8 in a tight encounter played in wet conditions at Wettengel Field on Saturday.
In one of the most evenly matched competitions seen this year in the new Asian Five Nations series, the Philippines balanced an individually skilful side composed of a mixture of overseas-based Filipinos against a less experienced but highly physical Guam side.
The extremely humid and wet conditions helped the home side neutralise some of the firing power of the Philippines talented backline, but made handling extremely difficult for both teams.
Guam charged out of the blocks from the opening whistle, taking the Philippines to their own five-metre line where they pulled an audacious full line-out with several of the backline joining in for the pushover try only to be held up.
After withstanding the early onslaught, the Philippines marched the ball up field, earning a penalty which full back Oliver Saunders kicked for a 3-0 lead after 10 minutes. Guam responded eight minutes later when fly half Kepu Katoa converted his first penalty to level the score.
In the 29th minute, Volcanoes wing Harry Morris crossed the line for the game’s first try. For the rest of the half, the match remained on a knife’s edge with both sides making attacking forays deep into the other’s territory, but the Philippines went in leading 8-3 at half-time.
The second half looked to be as evenly contested as the first, but some clever running and good support play by the Volcanoes saw wing Matthew Saunders stretch the Philippines advantage to 13-3 with a second try.
Philippines claim Magellan Cup
Guam battled back to score their first try through second row Sakiusa Vaka, who was driven over the line by his fellow forwards to score in the 53rd minute. Katoa’s conversion attempt from a difficult angle was unsuccessful, though, and left Guam trailing 13–8.
In a nail-biting final quarter, the score remained that way until the 79th minute when Philippines replacement Rupert Zappia collected a finely weighted chip kick to touch down in the left corner, the wing then converting his own try to make the final score 20-8.
Guam had been hoping for their second victory in as many games, having beaten Brunei 74-0 in this Asian Five Nations Regional Tournament’s opening match on 29 June, but suffered a third loss in as many years to the Philippines, who themselves had defeated Brunei 101-0 on 2 July.
The narrow loss, though, shows that this young Guam side are closing the gap under their new coach, New Zealander Willie Hetaraka, who has only been at the helm since June of this year.
As well as winning this Asian Five Nations Regional Tournament, the Philippines also become the first holders of the Magellan Cup, a new trophy to be contested between the two sides which they will retain until the sides meet in this competition in 2009.
The Cup, a silver Spanish Galleon handcrafted in the Philippines and mounted in Guam on rare local hardwood from the jungle, is named after Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan who first made landfall in the Pacific on his circumnavigation of the globe in Guam and met his untimely demise in Cebu in the Philippines.
The next HSBC Asian Five Nations Regional Tournament takes place in Indonesia from 12-19 July involving the host nation, Cambodia and Laos. The two others in Qatar and Kyrgyzstan will both take place in September.