Rugby: Singapore topple the Philippines in pulsating Div 1 encounter

Mr Inoke Afeaki, coach for Singapore national rugby team.
Mr Inoke Afeaki, coach for Singapore national rugby team.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Afeaki's men rally repeatedly in pulsating game for brave win, hope to stay in Division 1

Singapore were not even supposed to be playing in Division 1 of the Asia Rugby Championship, having been relegated last season.

But they are putting their second chance - thanks to Kazakhstan's late withdrawal - to good use, scoring an upset win over the Philippines yesterday in their second pool game. The victory improves their chances of securing their stay in the four-nation round-robin competition.

The Singaporeans, ranked 59th in the world, beat their world No. 49 opponents 28-24 in a topsy-turvy match that saw the lead change hands seven times at the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Despite conceding four tries to their opponents, a resilient Singapore clawed back each time they were down, courtesy of a pair of tries by lock Warren Ansell and fly-half Michael Patterson's three penalty conversions.

With four minutes left, the Reds were awarded a penalty try which helped them nick the win.

It was an emotional victory for Inoke Afeaki's men, who were in tears as they exchanged hugs and back slaps after the final whistle.

EMOTIONAL VICTORY

Anyone can win this now or finish at the bottom of the group. We'll be happy to remain in Division 1. We can either face pride or disaster.

INOKE AFEAKI, Singapore national rugby coach, on the final round of games of the Asia Rugby Championship which will determine who gets relegated from Division 1.

Afeaki, 42, said: "You saw real belief. We were down many times but we put in the required effort to pull back."

Captain and hooker Gaspar Tan was glad to avenge their previous defeats by the same opponents.

He said: "It was a really hard-fought win. Having lost to them in the previous two encounters (20-37 in 2012 and 10-17 last year), this win is a special one."

Despite the victory, Singapore remain bottom of the four-team standings with four points from two games.

Singapore's next opponents, 60th-ranked Malaysia, rammed home five tries in their 42-17 trouncing of world No. 37 Sri Lanka in yesterday's other match.

That left the Philippines and Malaysia level on six points. Sri Lanka, who beat Singapore on Sunday, are a point behind in third.

The winner of the group will earn a shot at promotion to the top-tier Tri-Nations division which features Asia's top three sides - Japan (ranked 10th), Hong Kong (25th) and South Korea (26th).

Singapore must beat Malaysia if they are to stand a chance of remaining in the division, although Saturday's other game between the Philippines and Sri Lanka could also prove decisive.

But Afeaki is unfazed by the looming threat of the home side. The Tongan said: "They (Malaysia) did a great job at destroying Sri Lanka. Anyone can win this now or finish at the bottom of the group.

"We'll be happy to remain in Division 1. We can either face pride or disaster. But for now, we're still alive and we're focusing on the next game."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore topple Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe