In the shadow of the iconic RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Old Glory DC took to the practice field for the first time ahead of its inaugural Major League Rugby season. After an introductory breakfast on Monday morning, head coach Andrew Douglas gathered his hand-picked troops for an evening of conditioning and first impressions. Douglas and his staff saw glimpses of the potential of the club and the atmosphere was full of excitement for the season ahead.
Twenty-one players ran onto the pitch in the cold and wet conditions at the Fields at RFK as faces familiar from the exhibition season joined the newly signed veterans from the MLR and overseas. The size, speed, and skill level were apparent from the start. The forward pack looked beefy and fit with the likes of Jake Turnball, Max Lum, and Jack Iscaro lining up in the front row and MLR Championship Series MVP Api Naikatini standing tall in the locks. Doug Fraser, Dylan Taikato-Simpson, and Ryan Burroughs flashed their mobility, shiftiness, and speed in the backs. More players are on their way and the squad should be fully assembled in the next couple of weeks.
With less than ten weeks before the first match at New Orleans, Old Glory has a lot of work to do. “Now for this December, it’s mainly S and C with Mike Legget, our visiting strength and conditioning coach from Scottish Rugby,” Douglas said. “Building up fitness, building up strength and speed. Let’s see what their attitude will be. It will be a tough December for them. There will be some rugby stuff but the focus now is to get them stronger.”
Legget will advise on the strength and conditioning program for the first three weeks until the holidays at the end of the month. The squad will practice four times a week on the pitch and hit the gym for another four sessions per week. After the holidays, Douglas will install his strategy and scheme and the team will prepare in earnest for opening day on February 8th against the Gold.
Douglas will also use this time to get to know his players. “I’m really enjoying them. There are a few characters that you always need on a rugby team and there is a want and desire so far… It’s a positive, happy bunch. Like I said, it’s the early days and when that newness wears off, we’ll see how things look.”
One of the characters Douglas spoke of is Api. Fresh off a championship run with Seattle, Api Naikatini comes to DC with an open mindset and excitement for a new challenge. “[DC is a] beautiful place, I love it. You always see it in the movies and now I get to be here. I’m loving this place and the family loves it… It’s a new challenge that I was willing to take up especially with the new team in the league. I was excited to be a part of this team to start up a legacy.”
Naikatini was impressed by the roster Old Glory has put together and can’t wait to hit the pitch on gameday. “Quite a lot of young, exciting talent around here. I’m looking forward to a new MLR season, looking forward to being proud of this team and this legacy moving forward… I’m going to bring what I can bring to the team and help with the young fellas. Be a team player.”
Another player looking for a fresh start with a new team is prop Jake Turnball. After playing with the Houston Sabercats for the last two years, the Australian is eager for the new club and happy to discover the wonders of the nation’s capital. “It’s a really beautiful city, a lot of history. On Saturday night when I came in, I went straight to the Lincoln statue and the World War II Memorial. I was quite amazed, a lot going on, and it’s a beautiful city.”
Turnball is looking forward to creating a fun environment and culture with the ultimate goal of making the playoffs. Impressed by the speed and intensity of his teammates, Turnball added, “The boys are in good shape, communication was quite high, and good ball skill as well. It’s exciting to see what we can produce.”
After a stint with the Glasgow Warriors after the exhibition season, Jack Iscaro is back with a focus on proving himself in the next level of competition. The Warriors helped Iscaro prepare mentally and physically as he has bulked up and learned from the high-level team on how to be a professional rugby player on and off the field.
Asked about the team identity, Iscaro responded, “It’s a new squad so the good part of that is that we get to craft it as we go. Like Coach said this morning, we are representing the city and all the people that are in it. We want to pride ourselves on and off the field and just work hard.”
Douglas summed up the first night saying that he wants a team that takes on adversity and works hard to achieve its goals. “I want to see to a team that wants to play rugby. I was disappointed with some teams in the World Cup that didn’t want to play and it was great to see the clubs that did want to play succeed.”
“We want to play rugby, we want to entertain, play a game that people want to come and see, and hopefully the players really enjoying playing. It’s going to take hard work. Those things a great to talk about but it comes down to how hard you work on your fitness, skillsets, and the desire to work hard for each other.”