In front of a sellout crowd of nearly 3,000 faithful, history was made in Washington, D.C. when Old Glory DC notched its first Major League Rugby victory against the two-time defending champion Seattle Seawolves, 28-22. At Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University, OGDC took more than 80 minutes of rugby to defeat its foe, but the team never backed down, never quit. In the final moments on their own goal line, the defense stood tall and held up the attacking Seawolves in the try zone for the victory. The grandstand erupted in jubilation after the final whistle, and Old Glory DC celebrated its first professional triumph with its fans on the pitch.
It was a night and day performance from Old Glory’s first match against NOLA. The takeaways from the first week and addition of Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira changed the attitude, mindset, and confidence of the club. The set piece improved, setting a platform that allowed Old Glory DC to maintain possession for long stretches of the game. The increased pressure on defense forced Seattle to make some uncharacteristic errors, which ultimately caused them difficulty in exiting their own half. The fans willed the team to excel on the field in the last ten minutes, and Old Glory DC gave them an extremely satisfying victory in return.
Old Glory’s first possession didn’t amount to much, but the team’s second time was one for the record books. Seattle tried to chip ahead, but captain Mungo Mason snatched the pill and drove forward. Tendai’s first touch was met with a loud “BEAASSTTT!!” and although he bobbled the ball, he secured it to the ground. After the ruck, Danny Tusitala found Jason Robertson. Splitting the would-be tacklers, the intrepid flyhalf sprinted to the corner for OGDC’s first try in front of its home crowd. Robertson’s attempt at the conversion was wide and Glory led 5-0 after five minutes.
Playing with more confidence than they had at NOLA, OGDC got the ball back following a Seawolf penalty. Glory maintained possession with some good offloading, and with its second shot at points following an offside infraction, Robertson nailed the PK from 30 meters for an 8-0 advantage.
It was Seattle’s time for points next when wing David Busby found open space down the sideline and OGDC was penalized for not releasing. After a lineout and subsequent maul, Glory was called for another penalty and Brock Staller split the uprights to make it 8-3 after ten minutes.
The first scrum came after a knock on at the kickoff, and it wasn’t pretty. Seattle pushed the OGDC pack back for a penalty. The Seawolves kicked for touch and set up a lineout at the 35. Old Glory didn’t allow its opponent another meter, but a dangerous tackle saw Seattle line up for its second shot at the posts. Sharpshooter Staller was good and cut the lead to two points.
The teams battled for field position, with each squad finding a glimpse of daylight. Following the third scrum, Old Glory regained the ball, and Robertson chipped it through. Doug Fraser’s and Tusitala’s pressure on Mat Turner bracketed the Seattle fullback and led to a penalty for not releasing the ball. OGDC kicked for a five-meter lineout and the forwards inched closer to the line.
Following an OGDC knock on, a trio of Old Glory defenders forced a penalty after the scrum. The lineout to maul was passed from Tusitala to Robertson, who dummied then whipped it to Dylan Taikato-Simpson. The fullback slipped around the defender and passed to Fraser on the wing. Fraser fought through Turner’s tackle and dove for the try in the corner. The conversion was wide, but OGDC increased the score to 13-6 with ten minutes left in the half.
Off the restart, things got a little chippy as both sides let their frustration show. After a penalty, the Seawolves were camped inside OGDC’s territory. A knock on allowed Glory to clear but a penalty for not releasing gave Staller a makeable PK from 30 meters out. The kick was true and a minute later, Seattle only trailed by four at halftime, 13-9.
The Seawolves got on the board first after the break when Staller connected on his fourth penalty shot after a scrum infringment. With the momentum, Seattle didn’t waste time as they recovered their own box kick and stretched the defense by swinging the ball across the field. The forwards took control and bruising runs from Mike Shepard, Brad Tucker and Andrew Durutalo set up Riekert Hattingh for the try. Staller remained perfect with the boot giving Seattle its first lead at 19-13.
Substitutes began to trickle in, providing fresh legs to both sides. Seattle looked to capitalize further on its drive, but Mungo Mason had other ideas. The Old Glory DC captain anticipated the pass in his opponent’s backline and intercepted the ball at the 22. Mason galloped 70 meters downfield with his support in tow. Nakai Penny tackled him short of the tryline and subsequently was penalized for diving over. The referee yellow-carded Penny for the play and Robertson chipped over the penalty for an easy three-pointer.
The pick proved to be the game-changer. “I saw the first receiver didn’t turn his head and I had an inside defense on him,” Mason said. “I came up well and it allowed me to get the intercept and get out in front of the ball… A little bit of luck and skill.”
Seattle bounced back immediately and regained its six-point lead with Staller’s fifth penalty. Off the ensuing restart, a series of broken plays ended with Mason poaching the ball at the back of a ruck. Taikato-Simpson saw an opening with a grubber down the sideline, and Fraser tackled the wing into touch. The resulting five-meter lineout was mauled into strike mode. Tusitala dug the ball out of the ruck and shipped it to Robertson, who skipped it wide to an open Renata Roberts-Te Nana for the try. The crowd went insane, and Robertson’s conversion on the sideline gave the lead back to Old Glory at 23-22.
The rumble in the grandstand grew even louder while the chant of “OG! DC! OG! DC!” was nonstop. After the hydration break, Seattle was back to full strength, and the squads clashed in the final quarter of the match. Old Glory kept the ball in Seattle’s half with kicks and pressure inside the 22. Both sides incurred penalties and turnovers with big hits and bigger miscues.
After kicking back and forth, Staller knocked the bouncing ball just outside the ten. The subsequent scrum resulted in a free kick for Seattle, but it couldn’t find touch. Robertson kicked it back, and Turner’s attempted catch was fumbled into touch. Old Glory got into its phase play groove inside the 22 and recycled quickly. Thretton Palamo dragged two defenders a meter away from the line, and Tusitala connected with Robertson, who dived in for the try.
Down 28-22 with no time left, Seattle wasn’t finished. Vili Toluta’o poached the ball after the restart and methodically crept downfield. With the crowd on its feet, Seattle steamrolled towards the try line following a scrum. Hattingh barreled into contact and was wrapped up falling into the endzone. The referee signaled a held ball, and after conferring with the AR, blew the whistle for Old Glory DC’s first MLR victory.
Superior effort was on display all over the pitch. Mtawarira’s 70 minutes of action after being with the team for 48 hours was inspiring and was matched by the impressive work rate and accurate lineout throws of rookie Dante Lopresti. Mason led by example on both sides of the ball, Matt Hughston was big off the bench in the second half, and Tevita Naqali’s fitness and durability at the end of the match was crucial. The backs outmatched their opposites on the day as Tusitala kept the ball moving, Robertson earned the broadcast’s man of the match, and Fraser’s pressure was relentless.
Lopresti’s journey to the MLR was especially striking because he was playing club rugby last year and now, he started next to the Beast in the MLR. “It’s crazy to think about it going through the steps… For the first time ever, I got to play with Tendai. Playing with him is a game-changer and your confidence skyrockets because you are playing with a guy who just won the World Cup… It wasn’t our best showing, but we put on a hell of a performance for the crowd today. We really fed off them and it was awesome we were able to get the win.”
Unfortunately for Seattle, the defending MLR champs find themselves in a 0-2 hole. “[Old Glory] used their opportunities and scored more tries than us,” head coach Kees Lensing said. “For us, it’s back to the drawing board. Definitely, we need to work on a couple of things. I think DC slowed down our ball in the breakdowns and… late in the second half, we made individual errors that cost dearly and we couldn’t get out of our own half… The next three games are at home. It’s going to be tough, but hopefully, the boys should know the environment and we are looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd.”
Mason summed up Old Glory’s first win saying that he is “Absolutely buzzing. The crowd really got behind us, but I’m more proud of the boys. There was some serious heart, soul, and desire to win that game. We were stinging and hurt after the NOLA game ,and we took a good, long, hard look at ourselves. We know within ourselves that we are a fantastic team. We got the personnel, we worked hard, reviewed, previewed, and now, we’re good to go. I hope this sets the tone for the rest of the season and thanks very much to our fans. Semper Ad Meliora. Always towards better things.”
Old Glory DC
- Tendai Mtawarira, 2. Dante Lopresti, 3. Gordon Fullerton, 4. Tevita Naqali, 5. Api Naikatini, 6. Travis Larsen, 7. Mungo Mason (CC), 8. Jamason Fa’Anana-Schultz, 9. Danny Tusitala, 10. Jason Robertson, 11. Renata Roberts-Te Nana, 12. Ciaran Hearn, 13. Thretton Palamo (CC), 14. Doug Fraser, 15. Dylan Taikato-Simpson, 16. Max Lum, 17. Jake Turnball, 18. Will Vakalahi, 19. Dylan Pieterse, 20. Matt Hughston, 21. Nic Mirhashem, 22. Michael Reid, 23. Mike Dabulas.
Tries: Robertson (3’ and 79’), Fraser (30’), and Roberts-Te Nana (59’)
Conversions: Robertson 1/4 (60’)
Penalties: Robertson 2/2 (7’ and 51’)
- Djustice Sears-Duru, 2. Mike Shepard, 3. Jake Ilnicki, 4. Brad Tucker, 5. FP Pelser, 6. Andrew Durutalo, 7. Nakai Penny, 8. Riekert Hattingh (C), 9. JP Smith, 10. Scott Dean, 11. David Busby, 12. George Barton, 13. Shalom Suniula (VC), 14. Brock Staller, 15. Mat Turner, 16. Vili Toluta’u, 17. Kellen Gordon, 18. Tim Metcher, 19. Jeremy Lenaerts, 20. Eric Duechle, 21. Jope Motokana, 22. Joey Iosefa, 23. Siti Tamaivena.
Tries: Hattingh (44’)
Conversions: Staller 1/1 (45’)
Penalties: 5/5 (10’, 15’, 39’, 42’, 54’)