Old Glory DC will start its 2022 campaign with a pair of preseason games against the Toronto Arrows and the New England Free Jacks beginning this Friday. Training camp and the preseason will be invaluable to head coach Andrew Douglas and his staff as they evaluate a squad full of new faces. With as many as eight new starters in the lineup, Old Glory is hard at work on and off the field to be ready for the season opener at Rugby ATL on February 5.
The team has been relatively quiet this offseason. However, they have made several strategic signings to fill the vacancies left by a number of significant departures. DC started its training camp on January 3 with about 30 players and clear goals and objectives.
With Toronto coming to the St. James in Springfield, Va. this weekend, Old Glory will finally have the preseason test that was lost to COVID last season.
“We can finally get a foundation,” Head Coach Andrew Douglas indicated. “This is the only time you can do really hard conditioning and not worry how our team is going to bounce back the next day. It’s about building trust and honesty in terms of our effort and what we want to achieve. Preseason is a pretty crucial time of the year for us.”
Training camp and the upcoming exhibitions will be essential as Douglas gauges the talent the team has brought in and the veterans retained from last season. Sixteen new players have come to DC in 2022 to fill the positions of critical athletes that either signed elsewhere or retired.
While 2022 will showcase a new team, Andrew Douglas is digging deep to recreate the original spirit that was found in Old Glory’s inaugural Major League Rugby season.
“We’ve gone back to our roots in 2020 to find the character and energy we want on our team,” Douglas noted. “It’s no secret that some players from that 2020 team have left, and some newer players have stepped in and brought change for the team that’s for the better. As a result, there is a different feel to this season, which I’m excited about.”
To replace the front row of Jamie Dever, Mikey Sosene-Feagai, and Steven Longwell, OGDC signed 43-cap Canadian National player Jake Ilnicki from Seattle, Rob Irimescu from Rugby New York, and Kyle Stewart from the Taranaki Bulls in New Zealand. In addition, Jack Iscaro, Jack Carroll, Dante Lopresti, Mo Katz, and Will Vakalahi return to DC to provide plenty of depth in the front row.
The second rows remain largely unchanged, with Api Naikatini, Tevita Naqali, Stan South, Casey Renaud, and David Beach returning from last year. With Felix Kalapu from Auckland Rugby, the lock may be one of the strongest positions on the team.
At flanker, the loss of Mungo Mason and Callum Gibbins is substantial in terms of talent and leadership. One of Austin’s top tackler’s, Dom Bailey, comes to DC to fill the void, and a maturing Cory Daniel returns only looking better and better. 2020 draft pick Matthew Gordon is back, and MLR debutant Fintan Coleman comes from Young Munster RFC in Ireland. Luke Campbell is returning after 2021 injuries and will provide coverage at flanker and eightman. Local bruisers Dacoda Worth and Josh Brown have also re-signed in the forwards.
Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz returns to helm the scrum at #8, after spending time with USA Rugby’s National XV squad during the opening stages of Rugby World Cup qualification against rivals Canada and Uruguay. The eightman additionally traveled and trained with the national squad ahead of the inaugural 1874 Cup match against the New Zealand All Blacks at FedExField on Saturday, October 23, 2021.
“His presence gives the boys a lot of confidence,” expressed Douglas on mention of Jama’s return. “Don’t forget, Jama is only 25. He has experience as a National player now, and I thought he was pretty impressive in the MLR last season.”
At scrumhalf, Danny Tusitala is back as one of the main distributors and playmakers in the backline.
“I just want Danny to be Danny,” Douglas revealed. “We know how good he is and how good he has been for Old Glory. Danny Thomas and John Lefevre have been training really well and are fit and strong too.”
With last year’s number 10 Jason Robertson playing in France, Douglas exploited his Australian connections to recruit Rohan Saifoloi to DC. Saifoloi has extensive experience playing on the Australian U20 National Team, the Manu Samoa international squad, and professional rugby with Tasman Mako, Queensland Country, the Southern Districts, and the Eastern Suburbs. Owen Sheehy, following his off-season appearance with USA Rugby’s Selects Squad in the Americas Pacific Challenge in Uruguay, returns to the squad to round out the position.
In the centers, Thretton Palamo, Doug Fraser, and Simi Moala will team up with the New Zealand pair, Junior Sa’u and William Talataina.
“The backline is seeing some outstanding depth,” Douglas said. “We’ve added some big strong ball carriers. Junior has shown us he has a really nice skill set, as does Doug Fraser, who is pretty accomplished in the MLR. Talataina will be pretty exciting to the Old Glory supporters. He is a big man with a very nice skill set.”
The two rookies acquired in the 2021 MLR Draft have stepped up in training and impressed so far in preseason camp. Palema Roberts and LJ Koi-Larbi will push the starters for playing time, and Old Glory supporters can expect to watch their development throughout the season as they transition from a collegiate to professional setting.
At wing, Renata Roberts-Te Nana was arguably the player of the year for Old Glory last season. A firecracker with ball-in-hand and overall exemplification of Old Glory character, Renata has proven that he can step into any position throughout the backline when needed, making him the ultimate Swiss Army Knife in the backs. Reinforcements come in the form of Peni Lasaqa, a quick and elusive finisher from the National Provincial Championship’s Bay of Plenty. Douglas has also pulled in support from the local club community, nominating NOVA RFC’s Jack Russell as an essential reinforcement in this year’s training environment.
Mike “Chicken” Dabulas is slotted in as fullback with Owen Sheehy backing him up.
“[Dabulas] is a better player now that he’s matured with his time with the Eagles,” mentioned Douglas. “It was great to get on the field against the All Blacks. He’s pretty confident, which is good.”
Old Glory has a lot of decisions to make with little time before Atlanta next month. Notably, many matches came down to clutch moments during the 2021 season, and unfortunately, DC struggled to pull out the victory. As a result, Old Glory was 3-5 in games decided by seven or fewer points and 1-4 by less than five.
For Coach Douglas, the solution to Old Glory’s shortfalls requires going back to the beginning.
“We always knew we were good enough, and it was just we didn’t execute because we weren’t quite there as a team,” reflected Coach Douglas. “We probably didn’t want to work hard enough for each other or were a bit selfish at times. When you are not quite right, you don’t win those tight games, and that was certainly the case for us. So we’ve worked pretty hard at resolving our culture issues by going back to our roots.”
Will combining Old Glory’s 2020 energy and the league’s 2022 standard be the team’s secret weapon? Coach Douglas seems to think so.
“The league is getting better and better,” Douglas concluded. “Players need to be better in how they train and how they look after themselves, both on and off the field. We’re working hard to improve ourselves every day when training to be better players and better young men. The league is certainly improving, and we need to improve with it. If you stand still, you are going backward. We are working to move forward.”