Introducing the new, 100-percent Filipino Heritage National Men's Rugby Team
EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT - Jessica Zafra () - June 4, 2010 - 12:00am

Christopher Hitch is a carpenter in Sydney, Australia, where Michael Letts works as a mortgage broker. Austin Dacanay is a chiropractor in Texas, USA. Every year in May they fly to Manila, at their own expense and using their hoarded vacation time, to play rugby for the Philippines.

They are joined by two dozen young men from Brisbane, Wales, North Carolina, Modena, the British Armed Services, Boston and many other places. Most of them are very large, and have names like Saunders, Morris, Zappia, Holgate and Sutcliffe. Readers might recognize longtime team member Andrew Wolff the model slash actor; this year’s recruits include Jaime Urquijo Zobel, a new University of Notre Dame graduate headed for a Wall Street firm.

Meet the Philippine Men’s Rugby 15’s National Team now competing in the Asian 5 Nations Division 2 Championships in New Delhi, India.

Your first question may be: “We have a Philippine national rugby team?” Yes, we do, and though the idea may have a kind of “Jamaican Olympic bobsled team” quality, it is not nearly as odd as Philippine ice skating. Which you know exists.

Your second question might be: “That’s the Philippine team? Where are the Filipinos?” They are Filipinos. The national rugby team is 100 percent composed of Filipino heritage players — players with at least one Filipino parent. Yes, there have been controversies involving professional athletes, usually basketball players, claiming Filipino parentage in order to play. We know this is not one of those cases: these guys have nothing to gain but pride and glory.

I’d tell you to cue violins, but they could break you in half.

What we have here is living proof of my World Domination Theory, which I will inflict on you again because you never pay attention. There are Filipinos in every country on earth, 11 million by some estimates.

That’s a whole country outside of the mother country. Think of them as our Armies of World Domination. One army takes care of the children of their foreign employers, raising them the Filipino way — in effect colonizing these countries from within. Another army migrates to foreign countries where they marry and have mestizo children, thus producing future generations of cosmopolitan Pinoys.

Consider the national rugby team, composed of Filipino mestizos and immigrants born or raised in countries where rugby is widely played.

We don’t have a local rugby culture (yet); rugby is an English sport and the Philippines was not a British colony, although the British did occupy Manila between 1762 and 1764. They left before rugby was invented.

A quick history of rugby in the Philippines. There are several rugby clubs in the country, largely composed of expats. The Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU) was founded in 1999 with one club, the Nomads.

In 2007 the national team, nicknamed the Philippine Volcanoes, shocked everyone by winning the silver medal at the Southeast Asian Games, then taking the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Division 5 Championship. The following year they went up two levels, winning the Divisions 4 and 3 championships.

The Philippines now has the longest promotion streak in Asian 5 Nations rugby history. If they win in New Delhi, they get promoted to Division 1. If they manage runner-up finishes in the ARFU Sevens Series in Shanghai and Kota Kinabalu, they become eligible for the 2011 Hong Kong Sevens. (Sevens is a variation with seven players on each side instead of the regular 15.) Their goal is to win at least a bronze at the Asian Games. The ultimate goals are to qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, where rugby sevens will be an official event.

Philippine team Coach Expo Mejia believes they have a strong chance of winning in India. “What our boys have is international experience,” he points out; they play for rugby clubs all over the world. Mejia, whose family moved to Australia when he was five, is a former math teacher who started coaching high school rugby 10 years ago. Since then he has worked with the NSW Waratahs team, formed the Australasian Rugby Association, and now coaches the New York Lions.

In 2008, after hearing about an Australian who was playing for the Philippines, Mejia contacted the PRFU to offer his services. It is a testament to the power of the Internet and social networking sites that the current players discovered Philippine rugby. To form the team now playing in India, Mejia conducted an elite training camp in Sydney in April. “Filipinos have a natural talent for rugby, particularly sevens,” he declares. “They’re agile, quick, strong. There are world-class players in Australia and elsewhere who are Filipino, we’re just not aware of it.”

How do you build team spirit when the players are together only two months a year? Team captain Michael Letts says their shared Filipino heritage glues the players together. “Rugby is a team sport, everything depends on camaraderie.”

“We’re together 24 hours a day because we have a job to do,” adds vice-captain Christopher Hitch. Austin Dacanay, at 33 the oldest player on the team, says the secret of the Philippine rugby team is the quality called “tigas-ulo” (a hard head). “When we decide we want something, we will do everything to get it. Even at our own expense, even if we lose vacation time. We’re here because  we want to be here.”

* * *

As part of its commitment to develop Filipino players, the Philippine Rugby Football Union provides sports training and assistance to orphanages and charitable foundations such as Bahay Bata Center and Tuloy Foundation, Philippine police academies and military forces, and expansion clubs. Some of the players from these programs have already represented the Philippines in under-20 level competitions. To find out more about the Big Brother Club Program and other rugby union activities, visit the PRFU website, www.prfu.com.

AUSTIN DACANAY CHRISTOPHER HITCH FILIPINO MEJIA PHILIPPINE PLAYERS RUGBY TEAM
  • Latest
Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
X
Login

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

SIGN IN
or sign in with