Asia’s road to the 2015 World Cup in England
started Sunday with the kick-off of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations
Division I championships in Manila.
The tournament is doubling as
the first round of a three-year qualification process for the
Sri Lanka and the Philippines cleared
early hurdles with bonus point wins to top the table after round
one on six points each.
Sri Lanka neatly dispatched
Chinese Taipei 36-8 in the first match, while Philippines and
Singapore engaged in a high-scoring showdown in the evening with
the hosts enjoying the honours after a 37-20 win.
outset, Sri Lanka proved too much for Chinese Taipei, using
size to great advantage up front before releasing the ball to its
fleet-footed backline where scrumhalf Srinath Sooriyabandara and
winger Sandun Herath proved to be constant danger men whose
incisive running broke down the Chinese Taipei defence early.
After scoring in the opening minute, Sri Lanka never looked
back and established a commanding 29-3 lead in the first half, including scoring four tries to earn a bonus point and put the
result out of reach. But the second half saw the Sri Lankans’ composure fade as three of their front row forwards were
sin-binned, giving Chinese Taipei a man advantage for large
swathes of the second period.
Although not reflected in the
final scoreline, Chinese Taipei battled bravely in the second half
with a try to scrumhalf Chen Chia Han coming as a just reward for
what was a tough day at the office for the tournament fourth
Sri Lanka was led in the scoring stakes by fullback
Rajendra Meepage who slotted three conversions and one penalty for
nine points on the afternoon. Five other Sri Lankans scored tries
in an evenly balanced offensive display.
international Phil Greening marked his maiden test victory as
coach of Sri Lanka, saying, “I’m pleased with the win. It is
always tough to open a tournament, particularly as the lads have
had six months since their last test match. We have a very young
team with quite a few guys getting their first caps today, so it’s
a good first step but there is a lot of work for us to do yet.
“The first half was great but we lost our composure in areas
and got frustrated which resulted in the yellow cards. It wasn’t
reflected so much in the score but it showed a lack of control on
our part. But the young lads will have taken a lot away from
today’s match and I’ve got my first win with the team on our first
outing, so it was a good effort and we can build on that,” added
In the second match of the day, the
hometown heroes, the Philippines Volcanoes, also jumped out to an
early lead against higher-seeded Singapore (second seeds), putting
12 points on the board without reply in the first ten minutes.
Centre Matt Saunders opened the scoring with a try which was
converted by his brother, flyhalf Oliver Saunders. The Saunders
siblings are one of three sets of brothers in the Philippines
squad for Division I.
Winger Joseph Matthews scored the
second try for the Volcanoes, one of two for him on the afternoon,
to push the Philippines ahead 12-0 before Singapore got on the
board through a well-taken penalty by flyhalf Suhaimi Amran.
The Philippines scored twice more in the opening half through
centre Patrice Olivier and Oliver Saunders, who converted his own
try to edge the Volcanoes out to 24-3 before a final penalty to Amran brought the score to 24-6 at the half. Oliver Saunders
led the scoring today with 12 points from a try, two conversions
and a penalty.
The second half saw Singapore’s Rugby Lions come
roaring back as they crossed the line through prop Riady Perdana
in the 44th minute. The successful conversion brought Singapore to
within two converted tries of the lead at 24-13.
Volcanoes replied quickly through Matthews’ second try, which was
converted by Saunders, to extend the gap to 32-13. Singapore
refused to lay down, battling for every ball before No. 8 Peter McFeely scored Singapore’s second try in the 75th minute to edge
back into contention at 32-20 after Amran’s second conversion.
With the game potentially in the balance, Philippines’
fullback Michael Letts scored a captain’s try to put paid to
Singaporean hopes for a comeback and put the Volcanoes clear for
good at 37-20.
Philippines Coach Expo Mejia said, “We’re
very happy with the result today. It was always going to be a
difficult match first up with second versus third seeds and you
never know what Singapore will throw at you so I’m pleased to get
the result we needed. Full credit to Singapore they never
let us run away with the match and they fought back particularly
well in the second half and were always within striking range. I
never felt that the game was out of our control but I think we
should have perhaps closed the game out earlier. We need to be a
bit more clinical. But there is a good base for us now to build on
and the crowd support tonight was fantastic. Our core rugby
community was here as always but we are drawing new crowds and
hopefully the more we win the bigger the crowd is going to get
Sunday’s results leave the Volcanoes and Sri
Lanka tied at the top of the standings with six points each while
Singapore and Chinese Taipei have zero points each.
In a first
for the tournament, now in its 5th year, the HSBC A5N Division I
tournament has been expanded into a round robin format with each
team playing three matches over seven days. On Wednesday, 18 April
2012, Sri Lanka will face Singapore (17:00) in what should be a
tight match, while fourth seeds Chinese Taipei will need to
regroup to face the home favourites Philippines (19:00).
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