FIT: Philippine Volcanoes' Matt Saunders talks about fitness and his lucky charm

IMAGE Noel Orsal

(Main photo) Matt Saunders takes his game seriously by preparing with rigorous training and harnessing luck from a doll called Veronica. (Inset, L-R) Michael Letts and Andrew Wolff also share how proud they are to be representing the Philippines in the upcoming Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013


The Philippine Volcanoes, the country’s national rugby team, has qualified for the sixth Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013, to be held in Moscow, Russia on June 28 to 30.

This was formally announced during a press conference held in May, at Cocoon Boutique Hotel in Quezon City, where a partnership between the team and sports apparel brand FILA was launched.

“We define our slogan as ‘FilaPINAS,’ meaning to erupt to a new sport and to a new nation now ready to rise.

“Together, both Volcanoes and FILA, we shall stand because in our eyes, the Philippine Volcanoes have already succeeded,” says FILA-Philippines proprietor Cris Albert.

In an interview with some of the team members, each expressed his feelings towards this exciting new feat for the group.

Andrew Wolff— former model-actor, Mr. World 2012 1st runner-up, and a Filipino-British member of the team— speaks for the rest of the team composed of mostly half Filipinos when he says, “[It’s a] privilege and honor to represent the Philippines…

“Ang pupunta ng Moscow will be 12 players, seven and then five reserves.

“Sa 10 players dito [present at the presscon], no one has an automatic ticket to the World Cup. May trial pa— 24 players ang mag-ta-trial ng June 2, fitness test, training, everything.

“Then, every week, magka-cut down hanggang sa umabot ng 12 players,” he said.

RIGOROUS TRAINING. In preparation for this milestone in their athletic career, the Volcanoes are training hard for the challenges they are about to face.

When asked who has the most admirable training regimen among the group, Andrew pointed towards the team’s center player Matt Saunders.

“Talagang iba iyong fitness no’n, iyong conditioning no’n. Malupit. Ang bilis no’n… malakas. It’s not about height. It’s speed and agility.”

Speaking to PEP, the part-British Matt described what their workout schedule is like.

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He says, “We go to the gym. We lift weights. We do a lot of conditioning, like running and stuff, to keep fit.”

Their pre-season training runs a total of about three to six months.

“We train every day, two or three times every day during this camp, but generally we train five to six days a week,” he added.

The post-game recovery is also something that Saunders and the boys deem important.

They usually get inside a big bucket full of ice to “help the muscles recover.”

GOOD LUCK CHARM. Having Filipino roots, the Volcanoes are also believers of good luck and good-luck charms. Matt, in particular, owns a totem: a little doll he calls Veronica, which he brings with him wherever he goes out to play.

But besides superficial things, the team also relies a lot on the help of fans to cheer them on and boost their morale in the midst of a high-pressure competition.

Andrew says they are grateful to Filipino sports fanatics, as well as fellow athletes for their support.

He also noted that while many skeptics and detractors think they are competing with the Philippines Azkals football team in terms of public attention, the truth is very much the opposite.

“We support each other. If we have a game, nandoon sila, if they have a game, we support them.

“Ibang sport naman, e. Rugby ‘to tapos sila soccer,” said Wolff.

The team is also grateful to their sponsors for helping the team with their financial needs.

According to William Bailey, representative of the Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU), no Philippine team since 1954 has qualified for the World Cup.

He also emphasized that “sponsorship is key” to solve this issue and gain a positive outcome.

Andrew noted that while the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) supports the team “as much as they can afford,” sometimes it is still not enough to sustain the other needs of the team, especially when they travel abroad to compete.

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This is primarily why the boys get into modeling stints during their downtime.

When asked if the team will still accept sexy pictorials, like their controversial underwear billboards along EDSA in 2011, Wolff said, “If it gets money, [we’ll] consider.”

GIVING BACK. Meanwhile, the boys also give back to the community as a way of thanking their fans.

Although most of the team members are based abroad, the Volcanoes find time to bring the very foreign sport of rugby closer to the hearts of Filipinos.

“We have free sessions from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at ULTRA [Philippine Sports Complex in Pasig] every Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s what we call Rugby 101,” says Michael Letts, the team’s Filipino-Australian captain.


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