Through grit and determination, Old Glory DC willed its way to its fourth straight victory with a 31-29 nail-biter against Rugby ATL on Sunday night. At Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University, the crowd of 2,400 fans was on the edge of its seats for a match that was interrupted repeatedly by penalties. However, when OGDC found front-foot, go-forward ball, they exploded for spectacular play. Old Glory capitalized on its opportunities either off the boot of Jason Robertson or the creativity and speed of its backline. DC will attempt to stretch its winning streak to five games this coming Sunday at home versus the 2-3 Colorado Raptors.
Old Glory’s strategy relies heavily on tempo and speed and once the opportunity presented itself, Rugby ATL could not deal with OGDC’s quickness and fast attack offense. They were playing a very bold game, attacking from everywhere. Atlanta had the advantage in the set piece and scored off three rolling mauls. However, Rugby ATL couldn’t really capitalize on this to add to its point total.
“When we can play at our tempo and wear them out, we look good,” OGDC head coach Andrew Douglas said. “We kept Atlanta in the game with some ill-discipline at times, and their maul is very powerful. We don’t lack character, and we showed it tonight. We held them out, and we scored some pretty special tries. We’re happy.”
It was truly a team performance, but several players stood out. Scrumhalf Danny Tusitala was the ignitor of the offense, as he deftly had the ball out of the breakdown with velocity and accuracy into his flyhalf’s hands. Robertson made the hard kicks look easy, Declan O’Donnell’s work rate was outstanding, the Ciaran Hearn and Thretton Palamo combination did the dirty work in the centers, Dylan Taikato-Simpson was one of the most active players on the field, and Renata Roberts-Te Nana was an enormous asset coming off the bench when Doug Fraser went down with an injury.
In the forwards, Mikey Sosene-Feagai showed why he was selected as one of the youngest Eagles with his skills at hooker, and Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz continued to impress with his picking ability and bruising runs from the back of the scrum. Jake Turnbull put in a solid 80 minutes at loosehead prop, Mungo Mason was all over the park as usual, and Tevita Naqali was big on the restarts and earned the hard meters up the middle. Matt Hughston and Josh Brown were second-half heroes, both making a big impact on the final result.
At the opening kickoff, the stands were already rumbling. Old Glory received the ball but found itself in a compromising position following repeated penalties. With a lineout deep in OGDC territory, Atlanta mauled it forward. The ref blew up the play, awarded ATL the penalty try, and sent Tusitala to the bin for coming in from the side. After four minutes of action, Rugby ATL held the 7-0 lead.
Off the ensuing restart, OGDC regained its composure. Robertson moved over to scrumhalf and after some solid runs by the back row, Old Glory earned a not releasing penalty in the seventh minute. Robertson lined up the kick and struck it true for the three-pointer.
Rugby ATL came right back, poaching the ball off the kickoff. Jeremy Metalingual passed to Harley Davidson for the quick try, and Atlanta was up 14-3 after nine minutes.
Old Glory recollected itself again and focused its efforts on possession and phase ball. Its defensive pressure paid off with back-to-back penalty strikes from Robertson to close the gap to 14-9 with 19 minutes left in the period.
After the hydration break, a high tackle from Fa’anana-Schultz gave Atlanta’s sharpshooter Kurt Coleman a shot at the posts. The flyhalf split the uprights to extend the lead to 17-9.
DC had a chance to chip away at Atlanta’s advantage following a not going through the gate penalty, but Robertson’s attempt was wide. Following the 22-meter drop, Old Glory’s counterattack culminated in an amazing sequence that ended with Taikato-Simpson dotting it down in the corner. Mason, Fa’anana-Schultz, and Travis Larsen had bruising runs in the forwards, and Fraser took the hole into the 22. After Naqali collected a loose ball, Robertson spun it wide to O’Donnell and then on to the open fullback for the try.
“The boys on the inside saw that the defense had sunk down,” Taikato-Simpson described. “Thretton and Declan straightened up and were able to suck in the outside D and give me a bit of space so I could walk it in.”
Old Glory was not finished in the first half. With the time ticking past 40 minutes, DC got the ball back and strung together several passes in the loose. With a mixture of forwards and backs in support, nearly every OG player touched the ball on the run, and O’Donnell finished it with an inside move through two defenders under the posts. Robertson’s conversion was good, and Old Glory went in the locker room with the 21-17 lead.
At halftime, Douglas said, “The first 10 minutes was quite frustrating, obviously. Since we were able to hold onto the ball, we looked better. The key to the second half will be to hold onto the ball for longer periods of time.”
The second half started with a back-and-forth kicking battle, with neither team taking advantage. A poach and subsequent penalties set Atlanta into scoring position with a lineout. Rugby ATL’s expert maul was in full effect, and their capped Eagle hooker, Alex Maughan, scored from the back. Coleman didn’t miss the conversion and Atlanta retook the lead at 24-21 after 48 minutes.
Rugby ATL looked to be on their way to building on its momentum, with a strong offload game and hard running by Davidson and the forwards. Unfortunately for Atlanta, their progress was thwarted with an obstruction penalty inside the 22. In the 58th minute, OGDC finally found their front foot. From a lineout at their own ten-meter line, OG’s backline created a gap. Taikato-Simpson darted down the sideline, passed inside to Roberts-Te Nana who then popped the pass inside for Tusitala who dove in at the posts for the try. Speed kills, and Old Glory was up 28-24 with a little more than 20 minutes left.
“When I came around the corner, I had a mismatch and I knew I could take them on the outside,” Taikato-Simpson said. “I put the jets on, got on the outside and when I dragged across the defense, Rens read that well. He came back underneath and called for it and it’s in the book. It was the eyebrows. The Kiwi connection is the eyebrows.”
With twenty minutes to go, DC increased the pressure. Hughston and Brown came in as impact subs, and the OG scrum steadied. After a knock on called an ATL overthrow at a lineout, the Old Glory scrum made a statement. DC muscled up in the set piece, Turnbull got in under his man and drove the Atlanta pack backwards. Scrum penalty to OG. The team and crowd went wild. After back-to-back penalties, Robertson added his fourth kick at goal to lead 31-24 in the 69th minute.
Not giving up, Rugby ATL roared back up the pitch and ultimately set up shop again with a five-meter lineout. Again, their rolling maul was perfect, and Maughan notched his second try. However, the dependable Coleman failed to tie the game with conversion pushing the kick to the left of the posts.
With less than ten minutes remaining, desperation set in for Rugby ATL. A yellow card to Bill Fukofuka didn’t help, but Robertson kick for points missed. The teams exchanged possession, with Old Glory doing everything to keep the ball out of its territory. The final push saw Atlanta move the ball past midfield before it was penalized for entering the ruck from the side. The ball was awarded to DC, and Robertson kicked it into touch for the 31-29 win.
Rugby ATL forwards and defense coach Blake Bradford reflected on the game by saying, “With the stop-starts, it was a break in the momentum. In some key moments when we had the momentum, there were some mistakes and calls that didn’t go our way. That breaks the momentum of the game and stopped us from scoring opportunities. There are some lessons there, making sure we limit those mistakes in key moments and when we have them under pressure and have the momentum that we convert it into points.”
“I thought it came down to Old Glory using the opportunities that they had,” Bradford continued. “We knew that they were a dangerous team in broken and unstructured play. When they had their limited opportunities, they used them and converted them into points. We didn’t convert all our set piece pressure into scoring opportunities, and they used their chances.”
“It was another ugly win, so we have to learn how to win pretty,” Mungo Mason stated. “We showed a lot of grit. As soon as our backs get the ball, we’re on fire, we’re lightning. What we need to do is get really good set piece. We’ve been working on the how with Tendai and as soon as the forwards guarantee a good platform, our structure is unbelievable and our backs have free range to do whatever they want.”
The crowd was in the match for the entire evening and was the 16th man on the field. Old Glory is now 2-0 at home and will be looking for a third on Sunday against the Raptors.
“We love this crowd,” Douglas said. “The boys get really excited playing here so we are looking forward to many more. Hopefully, next Sunday versus Colorado, we see a massive crowd here. I think we deserve it and this crowd is probably the best in the MLR right now.
“They are unbelievable,” Mason echoed. “We could hear them all over the field. They were singing ‘Glory Hallelujah’ and we’re massively appreciative of them. Keep coming back and we’ll keep doing the job for you.”
Old Glory DC
- Jake Turnbull, 2. Mikey Sosene-Feagai, 3. Will Vakalahi, 4. Tevita Naqali, 5. Dylan Pieterse, 6. Travis Larsen, 7. Mungo Mason (CC), 8. Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, 9. Danny Tusitala, 10. Jason Robertson, 11. Doug Fraser, 12. Ciaran Hearn, 13. Thretton Palamo (CC), 14. Declan O’Donnell, 15. Dylan Taikato-Simpson, 16. Mo Katz, 17. Max Lum, 18. Gordon Fullerton, 19. Josh Brown, 20. Matt Hughston, 21. Michael Reid, 22. Mike Dabulas, 23. Renata Roberts-Te Nana.
Tries – Taikato-Simpson (35′), O’Donnell (40’), Tusitala (58’)
Cons – Robertson 2/3 (40’, 59’)
Pens – Robertson 4/6 (8’, 13’, 21’, 69’)
Yellow cards – Tusitala (4’)
Chance Wenglewski, 2. Alex Maughan, 3. Duane Aholelei, 4. Johan Momsen, 5. Stefan Willemse, 6. Vili Helu, 7 Matt Heaton (CC), 8. Ross Deacon, 9. Duncan van Schalkwyk, 10. Kurt Coleman, 11. Harley Davidson, 12. Ryan Nell (CC), 13. Jeremy Misailegalu, 14. Zander van Schalkwyk, 15. Martini Talapusi, 16. Amro Gouda, 17. Jamie Ferrante, 18. Cronan Gleeson, 19. Conor Keys, 20. Jason Damm, 21. Kurtis Werner, 22. Sean Coughlan, 23. Bill Fukofuka.
Tries – Penalty try (4’), Davidson (9’), Maughan (48’, 72’)
Cons – Coleman 2/3 (10’, 49’)
Pens – Coleman 1/1 (25’)
Yellow cards – Fukofuka (75’)