Old Glory DC will take the pitch for the last time this spring on Sunday against the Ontario Blues. After three intense outings versus tough competition, Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. will serve as the battleground for the final melee in DC’s inaugural exhibition season. The Old Glory faithful are eager to cheer on their home team one more time before it starts in first Major League Rugby season in 2020.
The gates open early on Sunday at 9:00 am with a slew of “Battle of the Beltway” all-star age group matches as the “curtain raisers” ahead of the season finale at 3:00 pm. The national anthems begin at 2:45 pm and Old Glory will celebrate Northern Virginia Women’s Rugby’s 2019 USA Rugby Division I National Championship at halftime.
Ontario Blues Just Getting Started
The Blues are a provincial team from Ontario, and in the past, have been a full no-age restriction side represented by every club in the province. With the inception of the Toronto Arrows as MLR’s newest member, the Blues now serve as a developmental squad with a mandate of picking players under 25 years old.
Ontario just started its season and won its first match against on the Eastern Ontario Rugby Union, 42-18, on May 28th. The Blues are a deep side of over 50 strong and with two tests this weekend, head coach Phil Murphy will split the squad with half competing in DC and the rest in Kingston, Ontario to play Rugby Quebec.
As for the selections, Murphy has made some hard choices. “The consideration for selections is that we want to try to win both games. We’ve put our best team forward against Old Glory and then our next best team forward for the Quebec game in Kingston.”
“We know we’re up against a formidable foe with a professional side like Old Glory and we will rise to the challenge. We have guys that this will be the biggest game in their rugby career and they are very, very pumped to be playing in front of 1,400-1,500 people.”
Murphy highlighted two players to watch on the Blues: eightman Matt Fish and wing Miguel Palij. “[Fish] is a phenomenal athlete… He is just growing leaps and bounds and he’s only 21-22 years old. He’s a guy that I see as potential international caliber player going forward. Miguel Palij, in the backs, can run the ship very well. He is lightning quick and really knows the game. The beauty about Rugby Ontario is that we do have a very wide talent base and guys are coming on every practice getting better and better.”
Murphy knows what his team will be facing in DC and will have his men ready. “I saw Old Glory’s game against Shannon and we need to be putting our best foot forward to get the result on the day. That second half that you guys had was phenomenal.”
“Rugby always comes down to the physicality,” Murphy concluded. “Old Glory is very big and they move around quite well for their size. We just have to meet them with the physicality, not back down, and not get taken in with the day itself. Just go out there and play rugby like we know how to do, stick to our patterns, and not back down today at any point.”
Old Glory’s Final Ride of 2019
Old Glory earned its historic first victory last Saturday by beating the USA Rugby South Panthers, 28-7. Visiting coach Andrew Douglas recapped the action saying, “We had good continuity in our play, especially in Chris Kunkel’s try. It was well-executed, good build-up and the same with Oisin O’Neill’s try. It was good to see our set piece work really well: the lineout was very good and our scrum was much improved. Again, just good improvement from the week before and it’s good to see guys in learning and taking things on board.”
Coach Douglas doesn’t know much about the Blues, but he knows Canadian teams like to dominate up front and come big and strong through the middle of the field. “We got to focus on ourselves at the moment. We don’t know anything about the Canadian team to try to focus on them. We’ll just look at ourselves and make sure we do the best we can in terms of what our processes are.”
This Sunday’s roster will give players their last opportunity to show what they can do before the evaluation period begins. Some will be given the chance to start while others will be tried out in different positions to exhibit their versatility.
After missing the Panthers’ game due to injury, Dante Lopresti is back in the front row and will be welcomed by Mo Katz at hooker and Jack Iscaro at loosehead prop. Ayemere Oiyemhonlan will make his third straight start at lock and former Green Bay Packer tight end, Ryan Smith, will add some bulk to the second row. Tyler Barberi moves to flanker this week, Dacoda Worth will man the open-side, and Josh Brown resumes his captain duties as eightman.
In the backs, Michael Reid returns to the starting lineup at scrumhalf and Chris Kunkel will get to be the distributor at flyhalf. After a Man of the Match recognition against the South, Darien Pickett is back at inside center and John Sage rejoins the squad at outside. The back three will remain the same with Vetekina Malafu and Ryan Burroughs at wing and Nick Kuhl as the sweeper.
Coach Douglas has switched up his bench giving a chance to a few who were absent last week and others that he wants to see more of. Oisin O’Neill, Khalid Williams, Mason McIlwee, Guy Lopresti, Cullen Barelka, Sean Hartig, Selby Niumataiwalu, and John Davis will hope to make an impact in their final showing of the spring.
Coach Douglas wants to see a commitment to working as a team, not a group of talented individuals. “We’re a put together team and we haven’t had a lot of time together. It’s our final game so I’d like to see us work hard for each other and with that attitude, it will go a long way towards a rewarding performance.”
“The time to try and work as individuals is long gone so it will be nice to see a whole team performance. We’ve had times where we have seen really good performances, but it’s been inconsistent. It would be nice to see a full performance from the boys.”
Old Glory DC:
Jack Iscaro, Mo Katz, Dante Lopresti, Ayemere Oiyemhonlan, Ryan Smith, Tyler Barberi, Dacoda Worth, Josh Brown, Michael Reid, Chris Kunkel, Ryan Burroughs, Darien Pickett, John Sage, Vetekina Malafu, Nick Kuhl, Oisin O’Neill, Khalid Williams, Mason McIlwee, Guy Lopresti, Cullen Barelka, Sean Hartig, Selby Niumataiwalu, and John Davis.
Jeff Wood, Daniel Cooper, Emmerson Prior, Charles Oulton, Hank Stevenson, John Stoneham, George Manoukas, Matt Fish, Nate Roberts, Nathan Boeyonga, Miguel Palij, Mitch Voralek, Josh Bald, Jordan Henstra, Paul Schroeder, Owen Lavado, Graeme Francolini, Aaron Sommerhalder, Levi Konecny, Zach Zorbas, Andrew Wilson, Steve Commerford, Ethan Hager