The day after the game and the reality of not playing in the final of Division 1 is sinking in. It was good to have a break from rugby and get our minds off things with a trip to the DMZ: DeMilitarized Zone. This is the area between North Korea and South Korea established in 1953 as a ceasefire for the Korean Wars.

The day started off slowly with little photography allowed at out first stop looking over the DMZ. It is crazy to think that this peaceful area has guns pointing into it at constant readiness. We watched a short video describing the DMZ and looked at a scale model.

We then stopped for lunch in the DMZ. The place we stopped was full of local workers and we dat down amongst them for bulgolgi. This is a stir-fried beef dish that tastes delicious. Along with rice, there were the traditional Korean side dishes of preserved vegetables including kimchi, bean sprouts and cucumber. This kimchi seemed to have fermented a little longer and was spicer than the kimchi I’ve eaten in Ansan. The meal was awesome and worth going on the trip for by itself.

After lunch came the highlight of the day, a trip down into Tunnel 3. Since the split, North Korea has been actively trying to reunite Korea under a communist banner. To do this they have attempted to dig tunnels under the DMZ to bring in soldiers to attack Seoul. So far South Korea has discovered and shut down four tunnels. Before entering the tunnel we watched a movie and looked a museum with details about the conflict. Then we took a train down into where the tunnel ended on the South Korean side. It was surreal being down there. It was cold and the rock was damp. The tunnel was low and I ha to stoop most of the way to the end. They say that the plan for this tunnel was to bring through 30,000 troops an hour and launch an attack on Seoul only 48km away! With not much else to see underground most of the boys chose to walk out of the tunnel, a steep 350m climb!

It was a great day and I enjoyed it. I learned a lot about the Korean conflict and I hope that it is resolved in the future.

So close…

Since arriving in Korea the focus was the semi-final against Korea. On Tuesday, we had two training sessions. The first was at the ground. At the beginning of training Expo announced the team, I was disappointed to be selected on the bench but I was happy for the boys who were selected in the starting lineup. The team trained with a purpose and ironed out a lot of little things. It was really cool to watch the team coming together with a purpose and things fall into place.

At the end of training, we went into the stadium, Ansan Wa~, where the series final will be held. It is the home of the Ansan Hallelujah FC. The stadium holds about 35,000 people. It is going to be different playing in there as opposed to the ground that we play Korea on. Both grounds are sand based grass and had great footing. The weather was in the low 70s/20s which is great for rugby. The boys were pumped and back at the hotel for lunch the mood was really good.

The afternoon session was held in a dust bowl that Expo referred to as “The Arena”. It looked like a set off Gladiator with a bowl filled with dust surrounded by concrete seating. I don’t know whether it was the surrounds or that it was the second session, but this was not as good as the first session. It took the boys a while to get into the session, but by the end of it we were firing on all cylinders again.

The day ended with a jersey presentation and speech from Frank Hadden, former Scotland national team coach. The speech was awesome and focused on a pyramid  of what makes a good player. The smallest part was ability and the foundation was a warrior spirit. This shows that a great player is made by someone who is willing to go out and do the dirty work not just have the talent. It was bridged by TCUP…thinking clearly/correctly under pressure. This is what allows a player who has the warrior spirit and the ability to perform on the field.

Match day dawned with a rainy outlook. The team prepared at the hotel and then headed for the field. In our changeroom the mood was tense and focused. We knew that the Koreans would start fast and there was a focus on coming out of the gates with a physical approach to combat them. The game was a tense affair. Korea came out hard and scored early in the game. As the first half wore on they became tired and the Philippines ended the half with a try and the momentum going into half time. The second half and Korea was arefreshed, but the Philippines were looking to come back. I came on 10 minutes into the second half. The game was fast paced and physical. The Koreans were big men and the scrum was a difficult time. The second half was an arm wrestle as we looked to claw our way back into the game. We scored in the last 7 minutes to close the gap to 7, but unfortunately in our desperation we pushed the passes deep in our half and Korea scored at the death. The final score was 34-20.

The team played hard and courageously, but unfortunately our execution let us down. Korea, ranked 33 in the world, did what any good team does and punished our mistakes. We came back strongly, but unfortunately we gave them too many opportunities and the hill was a little too steep at the end of the game. The coaches questioned whether we truly believed that we could beat Korea, I think the answer to that question is yes but we missed our opportunity.

The end of training camp and trip to Korea

Training camp ended on Sunday with a down pour. Our trip back to Manila was punctuated by constant rainfall slowing our progress to ISM. We eventually arrived as ISM in time for the game and after wolfing down the packed lunch we immediately started scrum training on the first scrum machine we had access to all camp. The trial was supposed to be three periods, but turned into two periods of different lengths. It was great to get a hit out with the boys and put much of what was practiced into action on the field. Although the Philippine Barbarians were not international standard they provided a stiff opposition at times.

After the match we checked back into the GO Hotel for a night. It was a short stop with just enough time to get laundry in at the mall and then it was into the number 1s for the jersey presentation at the Manila Polo Club. The jersey presentation was a lot of fun. There were many highlights during the evening with the most important being receiving our jerseys. Every time I look at the Philippine flag on the back of my jersey I get shivers. It is a great honor to be selected to represent the people of the Philippines. Another highlight was receiving 5,500 pesos of gift cards for Bench stores and seeing the massive 6 pages article on the Manila metro society magazine.

The next day started with stretching in the GO Hotel before a mad scramble to get everything packed. Phil, Austin and I put our laundry in at the mall and were told it was going to be there for pickup the next morning at 10am. This was critical as we were leaving for the airport at 11am. Unfortunately, the laundry arrived on Filipino time. So Phil and I went to pack our bags and our laundry was picked up by Duhig and Jake. When it arrived they had packaged all three of our clothes in one brick! So I stuffed it into the top of the traveling backup, shoes in the bottom, and everything else in my rugby duffel before making it on time to the bus!

The trip to Korea was uneventful and we all got our bags. Everyone loaded up onto the bus for the hour bus ride to Hanyang University Guest House. The trip was an eye opener with Korea being completely different from any other country that I have traveled through. There were only high risers, there was no English and the bus had a weird fish smell. We arrived safe and sound and our liaison, Samuel, then lead us to some BBQ (apparently in Korea you don’t call it Korean BBQ). It was awesome and the boys had a great time.