Korea battled to a tense 34-20 win against the Philippines to set up a HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I final showdown with Singapore, the 52-17 winners over Malaysia, for a place among the region’s elite teams in 2012.
The Koreans, looking to secure an immediate return to the Top 5 following their relegation last year, went into the match with the stronger and more experienced team on paper and duly dominated the first half.
Wing Kim Gwong Min, number 8 Park Soon Chai and fly half Yoon Il Tae scored tries as Korea enjoyed the lion’s share of possession to go in leading 22-8 at half time against the Philippines, the Division II champions last year.
Philippines captain Michael Letts and Kim Gwong Min traded tries early in the second half before Matthew Saunders gave the Volcanoes hopes of causing an upset by touching down to cut the deficit to 27-20 with 10 minutes remaining.
The seesaw finale saw the Philippines, who had never lost an A5N match before today, create chances, but ultimately replacement prop Kim Hyun Soo’s lat try eased any nerves on Korea’s part and secured their place in Saturday’s final.
“The loss is disappointing because we gave the game away through too many unforced errors but I am very proud of the guys,” admitted Philippines coach Expo Mejia.
“We stood toe to toe against one of the heavyweights of Asian rugby this afternoon. We didn’t get the result we wanted but we’ve shown that we have what it takes to stay in Division I and more so to be one of the Top 5 teams in Asia.”
Korea captain Kim Jeong Min added: “It was hard for us to watch the Top 5 from the sidelines this year but we now have a chance to correct that.
“We played Singapore in 2008 in Korea and we beat them well. We are at home again so we know we can get the result we need. It is vital for us to be promoted so we can revive the reputation of Korean rugby.”
To do that and secure the Top 5 place vacated by the relegated Sri Lanka for 2012, Korea will have to stop a high-flying Singapore outfit, who scored eight tries in seeing off the challenge of Malaysia in their semi final at the Ansan-Wa Stadium.
Strong second half
Despite the one-sided looking scoreline, Singapore struggled for possession throughout most of the opening 30 minutes as Malaysia threw everything into attack and stifled their opponents with some committed tackling.
Malaysia actually opened the scoring through second row Dineshvaran Krishnan in the eighth minute, but were unable to turn their steady pressure into more points, allowing Singapore the chance to get back into the game.
It was an opportunity that Singapore took well, particularly the forward pack which shone, scoring four of their side’s eight tries. Scrum half Azmi Mohammad Suliman scored Singapore’s first try with debutant number 8 Peter McFeely also touching down.
The sides went in locked at 12-12 after centre Isao Turuva scored Malaysia’s second try, but a penalty try and touch downs from Marc Warburton, Matthew Head, Jonathan Chen, Gabriel Lee and Nicholas Groen ensured Singapore avenged a near loss in this fixture last year.
Singapore will now hope to avenge a 66-0 loss to Korea in their last meeting in 2009 and secure a second season in the Top 5, while Malaysia and Philippines will come face to face with the loser to be relegated to Division II for 2012.