Old Glory DC Starts Anew with Draw Against NOLA
By Evan Lappen
Old Glory DC’s quest for redemption was fulfilled on Sunday when its MLR season opener against the NOLA Gold ended in a 26-26 draw. At the Gold Mine in New Orleans, La., DC exorcised its demons from last year by utilizing an opportunistic offense and a stifling defense to earn two points in the standings.
Old Glory’s dominant back row of Mungo Mason, Callum Gibbins, and Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz set the tone with punishing hits, forced turnovers, and leadership by action. As for the #9-#10 combination of Danny Tusitala and Jason Robertson, lightning picked up where it left off as arguably the best tandem in the league.
With DC leading for most of the game through penalties and dynamic tries, NOLA remained in the game despite not going for points when the situation arose. The Gold kept it close and finished strong with a game-tying try and conversion in the 75th minute. The biggest issue for both sides was turnovers inside the opposition’s 22. The teams will settle the score later this summer when NOLA comes to Segra Field on June 12.
“It was a very typical preseason type game,” head coach Andrew Douglas said. “We tried to force things when we didn’t have to. Some of our set-pieces were off, same with our defense at times, and our attack shape wasn’t quite right. All those things come with time when you’ve got opposition against you. Hopefully, we’ll be a better team because of that game.
“[However], the boys’ attitude and effort were outstanding. I was very proud of them. It’s a shame we couldn’t get the result at the end, but it’s always tough coming down here because NOLA is a very good side, a big physical strong side. I think we were ahead for 75 minutes of the game. Considering it was our first game, it was a pretty good effort.”
Old Glory put on perhaps the week’s best defensive performance in the MLR against a stacked NOLA squad. The defense forced over 40 handling errors and bad passes and caused close to 20 penalties in the test. The emphasis from player-coach Gibbins was evident as DC was deadly at the breakdown, forcing turnovers and applying pressure. The “red zone” defense inside the 22 was great, and the set-piece held its own versus the vaunted Gold scrum and five-meter maul.
“We obviously worked really hard on [our defense], and Callum has done a really good job in getting a great system in place that players own and take care of,” Douglas stated. “It’s one of those things if you trust each other, then your defense is golden. Obviously, it is still early on, but I think the players are enjoying their defensive work, and that’s most of your battle. If they can enjoy defending, they will generally do it really well.”
Old Glory came into its second season with something to prove. The club wanted to show that its four-game winning streak was not a fluke, and that it was better than the first outing last season. Although DC was unable to play any preseason games or practice this week because of COVID precautions, Old Glory was focused on the task and was eager to play rugby against a live opponent.
Dressed in blue with the American flag across their chests, DC received the opening kickoff. After an early box kick and subsequent scrum, a NOLA offsides call gave Jason Robertson his first chance at points. The penalty kick was true, and Old Glory led 3-0 after three minutes.
The Gold came right back and did what they do best. Following some solid DC defense, a penalty set NOLA up with a five-meter lineout. The home team effortlessly brought the ball down for a maul, and Eric Howard rammed it through for the try. Carl Meyer missed the conversion, but NOLA was up 5-3.
Back on offense, DC employed a patient attack, and when NOLA failed to roll away, Robertson took the points to regain the lead at 6-5 after ten minutes.
The Gold took over possession and territory for the remainder of the half and camped out inside DC’s 22 for almost ten minutes. The Old Glory defense stood tall, and four opposing five-meter scrums and lineout mauls were turned away. NOLA decided to go for the big money time after time, and chances for points were squandered. The attack was finally thwarted after a forward pass.
With the ball, NOLA constantly beat against the defensive front, but it didn’t break. Pressure caused a sloppy ball in the Gold backline, and Mikey Sosene-Feagai picked off an errant pass. The USA Eagle hooker streaked downfield and connected with Danny Tusitala to dive for the try under the posts. The score was a momentum stealer, and an automatic conversion pushed the lead to 13-5 with about 14 minutes left in the half.
OGDC tacked on another penalty at the 33rd-minute mark, but NOLA had the last laugh in the half. After some scrappy play that ended in fisticuffs, a ten-meter lineout maul and subsequent scrum brought the Gold into striking distance. Scrumhalf Holden Yungert showed off his skill as he slipped a Tusitala tackle and scored on the second effort to beat Gibbins to the goal line. Meyer was good, and the half ended with DC ahead, 16-12.
The possession and territory evened out in the second half, with the Old Glory defense continuing to shine. Fa’anana-Schultz was a man possessed in the breakdown and grabbed the ball right out of JP du Plessis’ grasp to flip the field. The turnover led to a lineout where Tusitala looked to box kick for space. Instead, the fleet-footed scrumhalf went to the short side to Robertson. The Kiwi flyhalf offloaded to Renata Roberts-Te Nana down the sideline, who then offloaded back to Tusitala for the try. Robertson slotted the extras, and the lead grew to 23-12.
NOLA answered back when the Gold picked up the pace with the addition of Damian Stevens at #9. With hard runs by Julián Domínguez and du Plessis, Meyer ran a great line from depth past Robertson to dot it down under the posts. The seven-pointer narrowed the advantage to 23-19 with about 25 minutes left.
Each team had their stabs in enemy territory but turnovers and penalties plagued both sides. NOLA got the better of the OGDC lineout down the stretch, but a rolling away infraction by the Gold allowed Robertson to add another penalty to the total.
Up 26-19 with almost ten minutes to go, Old Glory attempted to close out the game, but NOLA would not go away. Inside the 22 with a lineout, wing Joeli Tikoisuva took the pass from the maul to the five where Stevens wrangled the offense. After multiple attempts at the line, the ball was swung wide where it popped off of du Plessis. Outside center Juan Cappiello caught the ball on one bounce and spun away from the defender to score in the corner. Meyer was bullseye with the boot to even the score at 26 all. With only five minutes left, both sides battled to the end but ended in a draw.
It will be a short turnaround for Old Glory with Rugby ATL coming to Segra Field on Saturday. DC will have its hands full with the Ratlers, but Coach Douglas will have his men ready for the home field debut.
“I was really pleased with the attitude and effort given,” Douglas concluded. “Obviously, there is a lot to work on and to tidy up. We needed that game to get a bit of dust and cobwebs out. Happy with the effort, but lots to improve on.”