Old Glory DC Starts Two-Game Road Trip Against LA
By Evan Lappen
In ancient Rome, epic battles were waged in the Colosseum. This Saturday, history may repeat itself, as Old Glory DC travels to the Golden State to accomplish a task no one else in Major League Rugby has yet: to defeat the Giltinis. With everything to give and nothing to lose, can the visiting gladiators from Washington surprise the newcomers to the league, or will the Giltinis continue their romp through MLR? Watch all the action unfold under the lights on Saturday at 9:00 pm EST on FS2 and the Rugby Network.
Talks with the players and coaching staff suggest that Old Glory’s triumphant victory over New England is a sign of the team hitting its stride and gaining confidence. “Another step forward, a real improvement,” head coach Andrew Douglas said. “It was nice to see that execution. The scrum obviously went really well and forced a lot of turnovers for us. It gave us a lot of penalties and go forward. We’re making really good progress, but there are areas we need up tidy up.”
“Our main focus [against New England] was starting well, and that’s what we did,” Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz said. “It set the platform for us throughout the game. We’ve been training for six weeks, and it’s good to see that we are finally clicking. With the forwards, it’s been finding our tone and what we are made of.
“The backs are coming together. The new guys, Osea [Kolinisau] and Thomas [Morani], have made a real difference. The biggest thing for the backs is getting more clarity together and for us forwards, getting a platform for them.”
It’s going to be a short week for DC with the match on Saturday night in LA. The team will practice on Tuesday and Thursday and fly out to LA on Friday. Old Glory plans on bringing 31 players on the West coast road trip, which will conclude on May 8th at the Utah Warriors. The squad will train in Las Vegas rather than return to DC before traveling to Zions Bank Stadium next Friday.
Coach Douglas plans on returning the same starting 15 and will look for consistency with the lineup. Unfortunately, rookie winger Sam Cusano dislocated his shoulder in training and will not be available for at least a month. Doug Fraser will travel with the team and is expected to be ready for the Utah test. Ciaran Hearn is still out and will hopefully be back by the Seattle game on May 16.
DC has a monumental task ahead of it this weekend in California. LA is the clear favorite in the West and has averaged 47 points a game while allowing 23.8 points. Using their speed, versatility, and efficient offload game, LA leads the league in points and excels in the first 20 minutes with a total of 81 points scored. Most of their tries come off the lineout, but the Giltinis are susceptible to their opponents’ scrum with a win rate of 85%.
“[LA’s] whole game is based on tempo so if they get quick ball, they are pretty dangerous,” Douglas stated. “They are a stacked squad across the board with a number of threats in every area. We have to compete at set-piece time and work hard to shut down their attack by taking away time and space. It’s easier said than done, unfortunately. The plan is to get into their face, force them into errors, and put pressure on them.”
“This week is going to be a battle of the forward packs,” Fa’anana-Schultz added. “Who has the better pack and who’s ready to turn up. That will determine the game. In our physicality, set-piece, scrums, and lineouts, whoever has the best forward pack on the day will win this game.
“We need to come with the mindset to dominate them, because if we dominate their pack, there is no platform for them to work off. Their backline really shows their superstar powers when the LA forward pack runs over teams and lets the backline come through and destroy teams.”
“Dave Dennis controls things in the middle of their pack pretty well,” Douglas said. “Their hooker, [Mahe Vailanu], is dangerous. Really good back row with the two Aussie boys, [Angus] Cottrell and [Christian] Poidevin, are playing great rugby at the moment. With the likes of [Matt] Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, and Glenn Bryce, it’s hard to pick one when you have a team of a roster like that… LA has strength right across the board whether it’s the starting 15 or the whole 23.”
The keys to the victory for Old Glory will be to control possession and tempo early, make the first-up tackles, stay connected on defense, exploit every opportunity, and hopefully frustrate LA enough to keep the score close and steal it in the last 15 minutes. For LA, it will need to start fast, maintain pressure in the loose, and control the set-piece.
“To beat LA, every single player has to front,” Douglas said in his summation. “It’s as simple as that. Our set-piece is the key, and also, the tight five has to start to dominate in that area. Also, the drivers have to put you in the right part of the field to execute.
“Defense is going to win it, and in order to defend well, everyone has to tackle well in a connected effort. It’s going to take the whole squad, and you can’t put it on one player. In order to front, it’s going to be a massive team effort to win.”
After the win against New England, the chant of “OG is on fire!” was heard echoing from the home team locker room. If that same attitude and mindset and is carried over to LA, the gladiators can beat the odds in the Coliseum and bring a victory back to DC.