Old Glory Returns from the Bye Focused on Atlanta

By Evan Lappen

 

Though down in the standings, Old Glory DC has plenty left to play for this Saturday against the current MLR Eastern Conference leaders, Rugby ATL. OGDC returns from its bye week recharged and healthier than it has been all season. Old Glory is 2-0 all-time versus Atlanta and can be confident on the road this week. It’s going to be a brawl for the Ratlers’ white-out game in the Snake Pit at Lupo Field in Marietta, Ga. Watch all the action on Saturday at 8:00 pm on NBC Sports Washington and the Rugby Network.

With the exceptions of Stan South, who is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, and Doug Fraser, who is not available because of Team Canada commitments, this is the healthiest and most complete roster Old Glory has had all season. With the return of Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz from suspension, DC will be primed for an upset this weekend.

“It’s something we wanted to begin with,” captain Mungo Mason said. “The stars have aligned, but possibly at the wrong time which is a little bit frustrating. It’s a good opportunity for us to show how good we can be at full strength and full capability… It’s pretty exciting and Atlanta is in for a hard one.”

In Week 2, DC played a conservative first half against Atlanta but a couple of tactical substitutions after the break triggered a 30-23 comeback home win. Old Glory dominated possession and attack time and held its own in the set piece. Fa’anana-Schultz, Mikey Sosene-Feagai, Api Naikatini, Renata Roberts-Te Nana, Danny Tusitala, and Mike Dabulas shined in the effort and led their team to victory.

“It was a clunky game, quite messy,” head coach Andrew Douglas said. “We didn’t play that first half well. When we changed the tempo in the second half, we came out on top. I would think we’ll be a lot smoother this Saturday going forward.”

“Atlanta are a big, tough, physical side,” Mason added. “They are the bully of the Eastern Conference and the only way to beat a bully is to be a bully. We are going to have to come back at them hard which is what we did [in Week 2]. We were more physical than they were, and we met the collisions really hard. We tackled well, we chopped, and we were dominant in the impact zone. We’re going to have to do the same thing again and, essentially, bully the bullies.”

Last weekend against Houston, Rugby ATL terrorized the SaberCats for four tries off the rolling maul and their defense kept its opponent out of the tryzone. Jason Damm and Ross Deacon both scored two tries in the contest and now have five each on the season.

“Against NOLA, our maul defense was one of our strengths,” Mason said. “We got lower than them, we held them out, we were patient, and we didn’t crack. It’s taking that confidence forward into this game. It’s knowing that they will try to come through us but we’ll stop them.”

The driving maul is just one piece of ATL’s arsenal. The backline is full of threats with some heavy hitters. Bautista Ezcurra, Adriaan Carelse, Jeremy Misailegalu, Mark O’Keeffe, and Rory van Vugt have produced a total of 17 tries this season and are a major part of what has led Rugby ATL to a 9-4 record.

“[Atlanta] has become more threatening in attack,” Mason said. “They’ve exposed some edges in other games we’ve watched, and they’ve been able to create more from less… We’re going to have to be on our game defensively and that’s why it’s important to be able to create those big collisions and put them backwards.”

On the other side of the ball, Atlanta is arguably the best defensive team in the MLR. ATL leads the league in tries conceded (23) and successful tackles (1,977) and third in total points conceded (256). Lock Johan Momsen is a 6’5” machine with over 150 tackles and is a thief in the lineout with 10 steals.

Fortunately for Old Glory, Atlanta will be without the services of Matt Heaton and Conor Keys this weekend. Like Fraser, Heaton and Keys were selected for Canada’s international tour and will be leaving early on Saturday. Even without those key cogs, Atlanta is a formidable test and is the team to beat in the MLR Eastern Conference.

With most of the horses back and the likelihood of the playoffs thin, Old Glory has a point to prove to itself more than anybody else. DC has all the talent; it just needs to prove it on the field and finish games strong.

“It’s all about attitude,” Mason said. “We have absolutely nothing to lose now. We have to go for it. Possibly, it’s taken that pressure off our backs and saying this isn’t a must-win like all the other games were. Let’s take that off and play what’s in front of us, play hard and play exciting rugby.”