Sri Lanka and Philippines set up Top 5 2013 showdown


Sri Lanka and the Philippines set up a showdown for promotion to the HSBC Asian 5 Nations (HSBC A5N) Top 5 competition in 2013 after winning their Round II matches at the HSBC A5N Division I yesterday at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. 


Tournament top seeds Sri Lanka and the Philippines (third seeds) will battle for promotion to next season’s Top 5 on Saturday (Apr 21 at 17.00) while Singapore and Chinese Taipei will fight to avoid relegation to Division II on Saturday (19.00).


Victory was a family affair for the Philippines Volcanoes as they started three sets of brothers in yesterday’s win.  Winger Luke Matthews scored on both of his first two touches of the ball to help pull the Philippines away from a spirited challenge from fourth seeds Chinese Taipei this afternoon.


Matthews’ brace of tries equalled that scored by his brother Joe, (who also started at wing today for the Philippines), in the team’s 37-20 victory over Singapore in Round 1 last Sunday (April 15).  Matthews’ credited his forwards for some stirring defence early on that helped put the Philippines in the position to break through their last remaining barrier to reaching the promotion match, saying:


“It felt amazing to score twice today but we have to hand it to our forwards whose defence was outstanding and set a great platform for the backline.” 


The Philippines started three sets of brothers against Chinese Taipei: 15s captain Michael Letts and his brother and Philippines Sevens captain Jake, flyhalf and centre Oliver and Matthew Saunders, and the Matthews brothers.  A third Matthews family member, younger brother Daniel, has already represented Philippines at Under 20 level.


When asked if there was a sibling try stakes going at home, a modest Luke Matthews replied, “I’m so proud of Joe. He played great on Sunday and had another great game tonight. It really is incredible to be able to run out on to the pitch alongside him and represent both our country and our family.”


Sri Lanka escaped a tense first half encounter with Singapore this afternoon to emerge victorious 35-10.  The score at the half was 14-10 before Sri Lanka scored three tries in the second stanza while shutting out Singapore to close out the match convincingly.


Winger Sandun Herath scored his own brace of tries against Singapore, proving that the Sri Lankans also have plenty of pace out wide, setting the stage for what should be some great running rugby in the final.


Not to be outdone, the Sri Lankans feature their own unique family connection as the captain Yoshitha Rajapaksa and hooker Namal Rajapaksa are the sons of the country’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.


Both have been strong performers to date, with Namal returning from injury in match one to support the team through the grueling task of playing thrice in seven days. 


The captain, Yoshitha, a standout for his Navy club and a veteran of Sri Lanka’s 2011 Top 5 campaign, has provided a steady hand at the tiller for this young and hungry group of players.


Former England hooker Phil Greening extended his unbeaten streak on his debut tournament as Sri Lankan coach with the team’s second win today.  Greening commented on the win saying, “I’m proud of the guys, especially the way they fronted up today. We knew how Singapore would play and we put a plan in place to nullify that effort and the guys responded well. But we’ve won nothing so far and I will remind the team of that.


“The Philippines in my eyes are the top team so far”, added Greening. “They are the team to beat there is not doubt about that. There are quite a few players in the Philippines team playing professionally now in Japan or at high level in Australia while seven out of our 22 players earned new caps either today or last Sunday. We have five 19 year olds in the squad also, so I am very pleased with the way our players have taken to the international arena.”


Commenting on the result versus Chinese Taipei, Philippines Coach Expo Mejia said: “That was a tough match and it was just what we needed. They really stretched us and we will be better for it. They were desperate and they really picked it up and tested our defensive structures, which was great for us.


“It will be a very tough match against Sri Lanka on Saturday but it is fitting that it will be the final. It comes down to who recovers best and who steps up most. Both teams are capable of winning and Sri Lanka isn’t quite surprising us. They have a good structure and are very solid in what they do. They have pace out wide and strong forwards. They have it all really, so we are going to have to peak on Saturday to win.


“But our guys are really keen to perform for our fans. We have been dying to have a home final and show Filipinos what we have got and we finally have that chance. The boys are up for it.”


The results from the opening matches on Sunday saw Sri Lanka and the Philippines both move up in the International Rugby Board world rankings.  Sri Lanka’s 36-8 victory over Chinese Taipei took them three places up the table to 43rd, shunting Malta, Uganda and Ivory Coast down one spot.  Their comprehensive win at Manila’s Rizal National Stadium puts them on 48.02 ranking points, and continued success in the Asian tournament would nudge them further up the ladder.


Perhaps the most noteworthy result of the weekend was when the Philippines capitalised on home advantage to surprise Singapore in the first match between the two countries.


Going into last Sunday’s match the Singaporeans were ranked world number 52 and the Philippines 20 places lower, but a 37-20 victory elevated the hosts 10 places in the rankings to number 62 in the world.


Today’s results leave the Volcanoes and Sri Lanka tied at the top of the standings with twelve points each as both picked up a second bonus point.  Singapore and Chinese Taipei have yet to post points but that will be rectified in a tight competition next Saturday to see who retains their Division I spot. 

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