Philippines success a shining example

(IRB.COM) Thursday 10 June 2010
 
 Philippines success a shining example
The Philippines beat India to gain promotion to the A5N Division 1

With consecutive promotions in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (A5N), and sporting an all-Filipino team, the Philippine Rugby Union offers tangible proof that nothing is impossible.

The Philippines' promotion to Division 1 of the A5N marked their third in as many years and they are now three years unbeaten in the competition - all the more remarkable given that they are still amassing enough test matches to be given an official IRB World Ranking.

Following their 53-33 victory over Thailand and 34-12 defeat of favourites India in last weekend's New Delhi final, the Philippines can now look forward to playing the likes of Malaysia and Singapore next year.

"We will compete in Division 1, obviously we were good enough to get there," said Team Manager Matt Cullen, a full time employee of the Union who believes steadfastly in the country's rugby potential.

"With the quality of players we are bringing in it will be interesting to see how we go against the likes of Singapore and Malaysia but two years ago we wouldn't have competed at that level and now it will be a good arm wrestle.

"It is a great challenge. I would really like to take on Japan as they are the force in Asia and it would be a great challenge for us to hop up to the top level. Division 1 will be a big challenge, but we will do our best to compete and try to win. It may take a couple of years to get there but that is certainly our goal."

The third promotion in as many years is made all the more impressive by the fact that, for the first time in their history, the Philippines selected an all-Filipino squad. All 24 players have either Filipino parents or grandparents.

In search of specialists

Up until this year the Philippine Union - like many others in Asia - relied heavily on ex-pat players who qualified to play through residency. These players helped fill the void in specialist positions, most of all the front row.

The selection of a fully Filipino side comes on the back of a new development drive by the PRFU to produce Filipino rugby players worthy of playing at an international level.

Although a number of the players attend universities overseas and currently play in Australia and USA, they are gaining the valuable experience required to come back and help the Philippines.

"Five years ago we picked a Filipino national team, but it was 13 ex-pats and just two Filipinos. We have really worked hard to pick Filipinos and to train them up and the average age this year was just 22," added Cullen.

"We were fairly lucky this year as we recruited extensively. In other years we found a lot of fast speedy backs, but this year we found four big forwards down in Australia with Filipino mums," added Cullen.

"We found a hooker, who got man of the match against Thailand, a big number 8 and a flanker who came into the team.

"The biggest income for the Philippines is outsourcing people over the world to work and what we found is that there are a lot of them all over the world, in Australia, in America and in England.

"Many of them are also playing rugby at a good standard, either for A teams or reserves, and now we have them coming back to playing for the national team."

Third world success

The Philippines are an example for many. Cullen is also now targeting the Sevens format and has set up a 15-a-side development national team that is to play against Division 5 teams.

"There are 90 million people in the Philippines, so there are enough people to promote the sport and develop it slowly but surely," he added.

"We are running both programmes equally over here. Our 15s team is our flagship team as we really do take pride in participating in the A5N. But we have already started discussing our Sevens team for Shanghai, Borneo and of course the Asian Games.

"If we finish in the top six at Shanghai and Borneo we get invited to the Hong Kong Sevens next year.

"Success breeds success and if these boys can continue to win, then we will get more Filipinos playing.

"It is a third world country, we don't receive much funding, but we have managed to fulfill all the criteria to become a full IRB member, which shows to other countries that it can be done."

Listen to Cullen talking on this week's Total Rugby Radio show, on stations worldwide and available on irb.com and i-tunes from 6pm UK time on 10 June