This Saturday marks a historic moment in sports for the nation’s capital, as Old Glory DC takes the field for its inaugural Major League Rugby match against NOLA Gold. At the Shrine on Airline in Metairie, La., the first match for OGDC will culminate an effort nearly three years in the making. The club hopes its introduction to professional rugby will be the start of something special for the District of Columbia. NOLA Gold stands in the way, as a team who was on the outside looking in at last year’s playoffs. The action starts at 4:00 pm Eastern and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Washington.
Old Glory has had two weeks to prepare for NOLA after its 35-17 preseason victory over Rugby ATL. OGDC had its struggles with the set piece and penalties against Atlanta, but the boys from DC broke through in the second half with a flurry of great support tries and a stout defense. The match gave head coach Andrew Douglas and his staff plenty build from.
“Obviously, the scrum needs to be better against NOLA,” Douglas remarked. “It’s just hard work and time, and as I said after the game versus Atlanta, I’ve got to take some responsibility because I didn’t give it as much time as I probably needed to prepare for that. We have put some hard work into it, so hopefully, it’s a nice, stable launchpad for us come Saturday.”
As for the support play late in the game, “Conditioning is pretty important, so we are checking it over and getting the boys excited about playing with the ball. Support lines come when players want to get behind and work for each other. When you are fit enough to get into a good position in terms of when someone makes line breaks, you want to be on their shoulder. Hopefully, that continues.”
With the preseason over, the focus is now on the NOLA Gold. As one of the original clubs of MLR, NOLA finished 9-7 last year, or in fifth place, just missing out on the postseason. The Gold were on fire to start the 2019 season, beating three playoff teams in the first four weeks. They would go on to win nine of twelve games but would finish the season on a four-game losing streak.
In the offseason, the Gold decided to maintain its coaching structure with head coach Nate Osbourne captaining the ship and keeping most of the crew together. The biggest departure from the club was the dynamic South African wing Tristan Blewitt, who led the team with 12 tries. Other outgoing players included Michael Baska, Taylor Howden, Caleb Meyer, Hubert Buydens, and Zach Stryffeler.
NOLA still has plenty of firepower, as most of the team that scored the third-most points in MLR stayed united. Canadian hooker Eric Howard and his nine tries last year is back to lead the forward pack with the likes of Cam Dolan, Cam Falcon, Ben Tarr, Kane Thompson, Kyle Baillie, Ignacio Dotti, Nikola Bursic, Moni Tonga’uila, and Malcolm May.
In the backs, fullback JP Eloff was lethal with his boot in 2019, coming in fifth in total points with 141 (44 conversions, 11 penalties, and four tries). Eloff is the conductor of a deep backline full of international and home-grown talent. The 9-10 combo of St. Mary’s grad Holden Yungert and Lindenwood’s Nick Feakes was solid last year, and the Australian duo of Con Foley and Scott Gale is impressive. Ross Depperschmidt, Tim Maupin, and Cameron Troxler fill out the backs for NOLA.
Not settling with the roster, the Gold reloaded to bolster its deficiencies. Argentinian national player Julián Domínguez was signed to replace Blewitt, and former Brumbies and Western Force flyhalf Robbie Coleman and South African Carl Meyer will provide depth in the backs. In the forwards, USA Eagle Dino Waldren joins the Gold from the San Diego Legion, and Cullen Collopy from Super Rugby’s Sharks gives Coach Osbourne another hooker to deploy.
“[NOLA is] a very good team,” Douglas said. “They were unlucky not to make the playoffs last season. Going into the last round, they was still in there. Unfortunately, they had a few injuries in the season that cost them a bit, but they started the season off really well, and I can’t see anything different this year. This is their third year with most of the squad together with the same coaching structure. They have continuity which is pretty important.”
“I see them being well organized, they understand what they are trying to achieve. I like the way they play, they use the ball very well in attack, and they got good ball-carriers with the likes Cam Dolan. They are going to be very dangerous. It’s going to be a tough start with NOLA then Seattle. We got the utmost respect for what NOLA is doing and for what they have done in the past. I think any team that doesn’t is foolish. We have no doubt it’s a massive task for us to go down there and get out of that game.”
OGDC is ready for the task on Saturday and hopes to be at full strength. Wing Declan O’Donnell finally joined the club last week, but the big question mark is Tendai Mtawarira. As of this writing, the arrival of “The Beast” has been delayed later than expected by visa processing and relocation logistics. Andrew Douglas praises the South African prop for this dedication to the team from across the world. “He wants to be here, and that’s the main thing. He’ll be on a flight as soon as possible. We are very hopeful.” While the RWC champion will not be joining the squad in New Orleans, Old Glory DC is excited welcome Mtawarira to Washington, DC in the upcoming weeks.
Douglas wants to know where his team is at now that the MLR season is here. “We’ve only played only one MLR team, and it was only preseason. We couldn’t get a lot of attack structure going, so we didn’t have much ball. It’s to see where we truly are at. It’s 15 games after this one to try to keep improving and get things right. This will be a good yardstick for us.”
“It’s a matter of making sure they understand what their roles are, and what the team wants to achieve on Saturday,” Douglas stated. “I don’t think they need any extra motivation to go into that game. You don’t want them overhyped. They’re excited, and they all want to play, which is good to see. As long as they are clear what their job is and what they are trying to do as a team, we’ll be OK.”
Old Glory is a team searching for its identity and still a work in progress, but victory against NOLA will go a long way in that quest. “We are still quite young. In terms of coming together, we are still finding out things about each other and, obviously, a couple of key components like Tendai haven’t arrived yet, so those jigsaw pieces still have to fit in. I think we’ll be a very honest team; we are going to keep working hard for each other, and I think we’re a team that wants to play rugby. We certainly aren’t going to go into our shells and not want to play. You’ll see us want to express ourselves a bit, but those sorts of things come with time together and that trust together. If we can be a team that’s honest with its performance every week, I’ll be pretty happy,” Douglas concluded.