Back from the Bye, Old Glory Travels North to RUNY
By Evan Lappen
Coming off the bye week, Old Glory DC will attempt to restart its season with a trip up Interstate 95 against Rugby United New York on Sunday. DC endured a disappointing loss to Toronto in Week 3 and will try to bounce back versus a RUNY squad on the rise after a convincing win over Atlanta. With the likely return of flyhalf Jason Robertson to the lineup, Old Glory hopes to jump-start the offense and bring a lethal attitude to the pitch. The first-ever meeting between the MLR adversaries will be played at Cochrane Stadium in Jersey City, NJ, on Sunday at 2:30 pm EST and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Washington and the Rugby Network.
New York split its first two games to open the season and then, after its bye, played a complete and sound match versus Rugby ATL. RUNY deployed an effective game plan and executed it for the 27-17 victory. Flyhalf Dan Hollinshead was instrumental in the win and was named Player of the Match. RUNY’s workhorses and playmakers were all over the field, and Old Glory will have its hands full on Sunday.
“A lot of their play revolves around Hollinshead,” Old Glory head coach Andrew Douglas said. “Andy Ellis is their game manager, and he manages everybody, including the referee, which is something we have to be aware of… Their front row is strong as well… and [Ben] Foden is pretty creative. Their center [Fa’asiu] Fuatai is a very good player and is one we have to be mindful of.”
Fuatai has been on fire at outside center with 25 carries for 271 meters, seven broken tackles, and two tries this season. Against Atlanta, he lit them up for six carries for 83 meters. He is also a beast on defense with 18 tackles.
“[RUNY] is well balanced,” Douglas added. “Their set-piece is really good, and the scrum was excellent against Atlanta. They took opportunities and were quite creative in what they did, so we’re going to have to be on our game… They are a very good team and are going to be dangerous.”
Old Glory has to be wary of the RUNY set-piece as seven of its ten tries have come off lineouts and scrums. New York likes to start fast with four tries in the first 20 minutes and seven total in the first half. RUNY leads the league in rucks won at 97.8%, is second fastest at attacking rucking speed at 2.96 seconds, and is the fastest on defense at 2.48 seconds.
While many wanted to immediately get back on the horse after the loss to Toronto, the bye has afforded Old Glory time to get healthy. Unfortunately, DC will be without the services of Ciaran Hearn and Doug Fraser for some time. Hearn’s quad is still weeks away, and Fraser suffered an MCL strain against the Arrows that will keep him out for about a month.
Robertson’s surgically repaired hand looks to be ready for Sunday, and experience, confidence, and direction come with him. Not wanting to disrespect others, Robertson said that he’s “a game driver and a game manager that can step up and drive us around the field… We’ve missed the gel over the last couple of weeks in terms of play-calling and playing in the right areas. I think I can bring some of that back this weekend.”
Change has been a constant in the backline as the unit will see the fourth rendition versus RUNY. Robertson’s expected return will reunite him with the MLR point leader, Danny Tusitala. Prior to Robertson’s injury, the fearsome halfback duo was a force to contend with. The rest of the high-octane backline consists of Thretton Palamo and Renata Roberts-Te Nana in the centers, speedy wings in Dmontae Noble and Sam Cusano, and Mike Dabulas at fullback.
The back row of Mungo Mason, Callum Gibbins, and Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz lead the forwards with 85 tackles and 167 ruck arrivals. Anchoring the pack, Jamie Dever, Mikey Sosene-Feagai, and Steven Longwell took the worst scrum last year to the third-best scrum win rate (96%) in the MLR. Api Naikatini, Tevita Naqali, and Stan South remain stout and reliable in the middle.
“We have to execute a lot better than against Toronto,” Douglas said. “We lost the gain line against Toronto, we fell off one-on-one tackles, and our set-piece got sloppy near the end of the game…When you turn the ball over as we did, you are not really in the game.”
“Defensively, we got to be smart,” Robertson stated. “We’ve been letting in soft tries the last couple of weeks. We need to be connected and bring in some good line speed. Pressuring their skill set, but it starts up front for us. I have full faith in our forwards to do their job at set-piece time… If we can play at the speed we want to, there are not many teams that can stay with us.”
The keys to the game for Old Glory will be to reignite the #9-#10 up-tempo combo of Tusitala and Robertson, win the gain line with the forward pack, shut down the #13 channel against Fuatai, and play with passion and fire for a full 80 minutes. On the other side, New York will need to score early, wear down Old Glory’s backs, and slow down the ruck ball for DC. The set-piece battle will be imperative for both sides.
Sunday will be a reunion for Robertson as he grew up playing with Hollinshead and Fuatai in New Zealand. “It makes the game that more exciting. You never want to lose, but you never want to lose to your mates… Your friendship gets put aside for 80 minutes as you want to smash them on the field. I’m looking forward to playing against them again and remember a few traits that they got and use that to our advantage.”