x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Philippines Volcanoes poised to erupt with rising rugby popularity

The players may be a little shy of the status of Manny Pacquiao just yet. However, they are still popular enough to brand it like Beckham.

You know a sport is starting to make its mark on the public when the nation's leading protagonists are deemed big enough celebrities to advertise underwear.

The players who represent the Philippines Volcanoes rugby team may be a little shy of the status of Manny Pacquiao just yet. However, they are still popular enough to brand it like Beckham.

"They have abroad-based players from Australia and when they do play they are classed as celebrities over there," said Jonny Greenwood, the UAE hooker who is half-Filippino.

"They are plastered on billboards, they are sponsored by Bench underwear so you see them half-naked on the highways.

"The game developed through the rugby professionals playing in Japan and three years ago it really kicked on."

What the UAE's rugby players would not give to have the following of their hosts. Today's crowd in Manila is likely to number into the thousands, as opposed to the few hundred that watched the UAE's defeat to Japan in Dubai on Friday.

The popularity of the oval ball game has been fostered by a rapid rise up Asian rugby's standings in recent times.

They made it into this season's top flight having won three promotions in the course of four seasons via the Asian Five Nations competition ladder.

Understandably following such a hasty ascent, they have struggled in their maiden campaign in the top flight. However, they are keen to remain in this company.

"It won't be easy, as UAE have been in the Top Five for a number of years, but we are quietly confident," said Jarred Hodges, their Australian head coach, ahead of this afternoon's game at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

"We are playing in Manila, and the hometown support never fails to lift the boys' performance."

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