Friendships set aside in Phil's Philippines swansong

Matt Jones - Editor 19:46 19/05/2017
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Phil Abraham (l) wins his 19th and final Philippines cap against some familiar faces against the UAE on Saturday

Phil Abraham admits there will be mixed emotions when he pulls the Philippines jersey on against the UAE on Saturday. It will be the veteran hooker’s final appearance for his nation and comes against best friend Ben Bolger and many of his Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ teammates.

But the 34-year-old is realistic enough to know there will be no room for sentiment as survival is at stake – with the winner earning the right to stay in Division I of the Asia Rugby Championship while the loser will be relegated.

The American is the very definition of multi-national. He was born and raised in Chicago to a Filipino mother and Indian father, and was first introduced to international rugby while playing in college at the University of Illinois before playing stints in New Zealand and then Australia.

It was during the 2013 Asian 5 Nations that Abraham ran into future Quins’ teammates Graham Murphy and Malcolm Greenslade, having just played for the Philippines against the UAE.

Abraham, who had already accepted a job in the UAE capital, also unwittingly paved the way for his move to the Zayed Sports City-based club in that chance encounter.

Defeat to the Volcanoes that day in May four years ago seriously burnt the UAE who lost their place in the Top 5 as a result, and while Abraham has a lot of love for the men he faces today, he knows he has a job to do.

Phil Abraham in action for Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

Phil Abraham in action for Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

“There is a case of split loyalties, I love being a Quin, I love being a Volcano. But it’s country before club,” said Abraham, who will be winning his 19th and final cap for the Philippines.

“Being a Volcano is part of my cultural identity. Representing my blood, making my mom and my family proud.

“Benny’s (Bolger, UAE captain) my best friend and I wish him nothing but the best. But I’ll be doing everything I can to get the win for the country. Especially with this being my last Test match and especially knowing what the stakes are.

“I wouldn’t pick any other way to have it. It’s really special to me because I played against the UAE in 2013 right before I moved to Abu Dhabi, met the Quins boys and they made Abu Dhabi a home for me and my wife.

“Now it’s coming full circle closing out like this. It’s like two worlds coming together. Playing with my brothers for country and against my brothers from club.”

Abraham, who deals with teenage hormones on a daily basis in his job as a school counsellor at GEMS American Academy in Abu Dhabi, joked he has no solution for the possibility of him falling out with Bolger and fellow Quins Ed Talbot, Luke Stevenson and Chris Jones-Griffiths should his Philippines send the UAE back down to Division II.

“It’s a round robin so each team plays each other so that’s great, I get to get my hands on some of them (Quins teammates), said University of Illinois alumni, Abraham, who has decided to call time on his career as he has a young son.

“It might put mine and Ben’s friendship to the test but it should be fun and it’ll raise the competition of the game so I’m looking forward to it.”

“It’s going to be fun because the UAE have just been promoted to Division I. I’m going to be playing against a lot of players I know so it will be a fun time.

“There’s a lot of good young, talented guys coming through and that’s a good thing of playing for your country, you get to play for your culture and there’s a lot of pride in it.”

It might seem strange; an American, with an Indian and Filipino parents, ending up playing rugby rather than basketball, cricket or baseball.

But Abraham explained that rugby has a well-established platform in the States, including in college where he first caught the bug.

“I picked it up at university and that’s where it’s big out there, especially now with the sevens,” said Abraham, who played at Illinois before turning out for his hometown club the Chicago Lions, who play in Midwest Division I of the USA Rugby Club Championships.

“I played for the University of Illinois and their team is like 60 years old. A lot of major universities in the States have pretty well established club systems and they range in level of competitiveness. I played at a big school and with a big club.

“I’m from Chicago so fortunately enough one of the big teams was in my backyard, the Lions, so I luckily got the chance to play for them.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in New Zealand and Australia and out here, and I’ve played for the Philippines too.

“It’s how I met the guys at Quins. I had no idea about Abu Dhabi. I was talking to them after a game at a doping testing room, Graham and Malcolm. I was moving to Abu Dhabi so they told me about Quins. I was fortunate enough and it’s a great community, it makes it feel like home.”

From the Lions to Old Boys University in Wellington, New Zealand and Randwick Rugby Club in Sydney, Australia, Abraham has truly traversed the globe exploring his love for the game.

And although he is bringing down the curtain on his international career today, he says he’ll try and prolong his Quins playing days for as long as he can.

“I stepped away a little this season as I have a little one now so have a few more responsibilities,” said Abraham, Quins’ former captain who was part of a club that won five trophies domestically in 2016/17.

“I was captain the last couple of years but still play now. It’s nice to be available and just play for the enjoyment.

“Ben does a great job of rallying the guys. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else, he’s my best friend out here. He has great experience and has played rugby league back in the UK.

“There’s a really family feel to the club and no-one gets paid, everyone pays their subs, everyone’s at the same level. No-one’s resentful and everyone buys into it. The winning and quality of play is a by-product of that.”

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