Old Glory in Battle for Playoff Hopes Against NOLA
By Evan Lappen
With five games left in the season, Old Glory DC is under pressure to make the MLR Eastern Conference playoffs, and it all starts with NOLA Gold on Saturday. At Segra Field in Leesburg, Va., OGDC needs to put aside the disappointing results of the last two weeks and show the DC faithful the pride and glory of rugby in the Nation’s Capital. The Gold is the top contender in the East and is coming off a brutal one-point loss in their final home game of the season. Kickoff is at 5:00 pm, and the game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Washington and the Rugby Network. Tickets for the day, which includes Old Glory’s Pacific Islander Day celebration, are on sale at https://ogdc.oldglorydc.com/og-season-ticket-2021.
Last weekend, After falling behind versus New England on the road, Old Glory fought hard and strong for 80 minutes but, ultimately, didn’t have enough to make that final connection to win the game.
“It was a kicker,” Mike Dabulas said. “A lot of opportunities that we missed out on. As it has happened all season, we started slow. We start battling, trying to figure it out, get ourselves in a hole too quickly, and have to dig out. Starting quick and fast is something we really need to do better on and then capitalizing on opportunities.”
The slow start has been a focus for the team, and the solutions begin with personal accountability. “It comes back to individuals getting themselves ready for that game,” head coach Andrew Douglas stated. “We’re doing nothing different from what we did last year. It’s individual accountability, and we have to be there ready to go when the time comes. We need to learn to switch on and be ready to play.”
Part of that is the absence of key players that the coaching staff hopes to have on the pitch soon. Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz will be serving the final game of his suspension this weekend, while Mungo Mason and Thretton Palamo will be tested this week to gauge if they are game-ready. Unfortunately for Doug Fraser, he left the game early against New England and is in the concussion protocol this week.
Saturday’s match versus NOLA is paramount for an end-of-the-season run. At a record of 5-4-1 and fourth place in the East, the Gold is four points away from the conference semifinal. Last weekend’s 8-7 loss in its final home game was a blow; however, with the remainder of their schedule on the road, NOLA will be desperate to show they can win away from the Gold Mine.
Old Glory and NOLA have a history together, starting with a 46-13 defeat last year and then a 26-26 draw to begin the 2021 campaign. The Gold has always been a difficult test for DC, but this weekend is the first time they will be at Old Glory’s house.
“We had to match them physically in that first game,” Douglas indicated. “It was our most physical performance, and we have to do that again. Our set-piece was pretty good last time, and we have to be conscious of that again because NOLA generates everything off their set-piece. If we take that away from them, it will certainly be easier for us. We have to start better in this game because you can’t give NOLA 12 or 17 points like we did against New England and expect to come back. They are too good of a team for that.”
NOLA’s set-piece was efficient in its first game against DC and has only improved since. 19 of the Gold’s 30 tries have been scored off of its set-piece with 17 coming from the lineout. NOLA leads the league in successful lineouts (86.2%) and is the best in the MLR with winning 97% of its scrums.
“[NOLA’s] front row has been really strong,” Douglas said. “The Irish hooker, Pat O’Toole, has come on and played really well lately. Matt Harmon and Dino Waldren are hurting, having been cut from the USA squad, so they will have a point to prove. Obviously, their midfield is quite dangerous with [JP] du Plessis, and the Argentinian winger (Julián Domínguez) is big and strong, and he beats a lot of people one-on-one.”
When you throw in the back row of Cam Dolan, Moni Tonga’uiha, and Andrew Guerra combined with Damian Stevens, Timothée Guillemin, and Juan Cappiello in the backline, you have a potent lineup on offense and defense.
The advantage for Old Glory this Saturday will be returning to the friendly and boisterous confines of Segra Field. NOLA is 0-2 on the road, and OGDC will need every bit of energy and confidence from the home crowd.
“We haven’t had a real big crowd since last year, and we didn’t lose a single home game,” Dabulas said. “I think it’s mainly because of that crowd. Having a big crowd at Segra this weekend is going to be massive for us.”
“We got to show our fans a lot of respect because we didn’t perform for them at home against New York,” Douglas added. “I thought we were very poor and very disappointing to put that performance in front of our home fans. It would be nice to put on a really good performance for our fans at home and give them back the respect they deserve.”
Old Glory won’t say this is a must-win game, but if it wants to celebrate victory and play meaningful rugby at the end of July, DC needs to play angry and with purpose.
“We got to play a little pissed off,” Dabulas concluded. “Losing those close games is pretty frustrating, to say the least, and I think we need to play with a chip on our shoulder now. They are a top seed, it’s a conference game, and we’re pretty close to them. If we want to stay in this thing, we have to win this game.”