Old Glory Hopes to Break the Schneid Against New England
By Evan Lappen
When Old Glory DC takes the pitch on Sunday at Segra Field against New England Free Jacks, it will look to break a two-game losing streak and get back to 0.500 with a win. Both teams are coming off close losses, but DC has something to prove to itself, its fan base, and the league. The action unfolds Sunday at 3:30 pm EST in Leesburg, Va., and will be broadcast on Fox Sports One. The match will be streamed on The Rugby Network only in Canada and Internationally. Additionally, this weekend is the first of Old Glory’s themed days with a Celtic and Club Heritage Celebration. More about the gameday experience is below.
The 38-34 loss to New York last weekend was disappointing, but head coach Andrew Douglas knows his team is on the right trajectory. “Two lost lineouts, two lost scrums, three silly penalties in the last ten minutes of a tight game. If you make those types of errors, we are not going to cross the line. We have to be better with closing that down. We created opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize.”
The loss was not for nothing, as the team had its best offensive output of the season, with 34 points and five tries. One of the biggest contributing factors was going for the try instead of points on penalties.
“As you saw, we’re going for more lineout drives than penalties to score. It paid off for us on the weekend,” Douglas added. “Our forwards are better and stronger, and, although we didn’t get it right all the time, we scored two tries from close-in plays with lineouts. I think it’s going to be a real weapon for us.”
With New England on deck this Sunday, Old Glory has signed Thomas Morani and Osea Kolinisau to bolster the depth and experience of the backline. Morani, an Argentinian midfielder who cut his teeth playing outside-center for Top 12 side CUBA, is on a short-term loan from the Houston SaberCats. Kolinisau, the captain of the Olympic Gold Medal Fijian 7s side, has played the last three years with Houston and will help in the back three.
“It’s going to be a pretty tight game based on lineups,” Douglas said. “Danny and Jason play a massive part in making sure our game is well-managed, we are driving across the park, and playing in the right parts of the field. It will be a good test against New England. I think the game will be won upfront, to be honest. It’s whoever is controlling territory and possession is generally the team that is going to come out on top, especially with teams with similar outlines.”
As for Sunday’s opponent, the Free Jacks have had a roller-coaster season with a loss to LA, a shutout over Houston, and a pair of one-point decisions where they split the results. This past weekend, New England played in a rain-soaked mess at NOLA and lost 30-29. It was a contentious match that saw six lead changes. Ultimately, it came down to who had the ball last, and the Gold came out on top.
“[New England] is a structured side, organized, and has threats across the board,” Douglas stated. “The likes of Beaudein Waaka and Dougie Fife are dangerous players and also have good ball-carrying back rows in Joe Johnston and the Canadian captain Josh Larsen… They are pretty tidy and bring the heat on defense with their line speed. We have to be aware of that probably more so than the last two weeks.”
Like Old Glory’s halfback tandem, the Free Jacks have a skillful duo in John Poland and Harrison Boyle. Poland isn’t afraid to scrap it up, and Boyle was very busy against NOLA in week 5. Outside center Poasa Waqanibau is a big hitter on defense, and Tera Mtembu is just getting his feet wet with the club. New England actively finds creative ways to utilize Fife’s talents on the wing as he is among the MLR league leaders with five tries.
In the forwards, eightman Wian Conradie leads by example with 14 carries for 67 meters and 14 tackles versus NOLA. Captain Josh Larsen and lock Jackson Thiebes are beasts on defense with 13 tackles each last week. New England will be without flanker Joe Johnston who is serving the final game of his suspension.
The keys to the game for Old Glory will be to score first, avoid a slugfest, work on ball retention, go for tries more than penalties, and execute when it matters most. For the Free Jacks, they need to slow down the ball, take advantage of the younger players in the back three, and use their experience to their benefit.
Sunday marks the first themed day, Celtic and Club Heritage Celebration, at Segra Field. When the gates open at 1:30 pm, Old Glory invites its fans in celebrating their own rugby clubs by wearing their club jerseys and t-shirts, celebrate our partners in the Scottish Rugby Union across the pond with SRU gear, or more generally represent with Irish, Welsh, or other Celtic-themed rugby kits. Scottish Rugby jerseys will be available for purchase along with a limited-edition Old Glory DC Celtic-inspired shirt, and bagpipers will perform during pre-game and at halftime. Players and clubs are encouraged to bring their banners and club flags to the stadium.