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.