After a disappointing two-game stretch away from Segra Field, Old Glory DC returns to the DMV with the opportunity to spoil a contender’s run to the MLR Playoffs. On Saturday afternoon, Old Glory welcomes the Houston SaberCats for their first visit to the District. The SaberCats are on a three-game winning streak and are only three points behind second place in the West. Old Glory has an undefeated 2-0 record against Houston and hopes that a shuffling of the gameday 23 will jumpstart the club. The gates to Segra Field open at 10:00 am for pregame activities, with the MLR kickoff at 1:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster, and the game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Washington and the Rugby Network.
With 13 Old Glory players hailing from Pacific Islander communities, Old Glory DC is proud to bring Pacific Islander Day to Segra Field on Saturday. The team will highlight the culture of this great community throughout the week. Entertainment accompanied by steel drums and Pacific Islander musical guests will be in VIP and on the concourse, and a representative of the Asian American Justice Center will present the game ball before the match. For the curtain-raiser, the Young Glory U23 side plays the Pittsburgh Forge U23 at 10:30 am.
A Stark Defeat in NOLA
Under sweltering conditions last weekend, Old Glory couldn’t match the pace and intensity of NOLA Gold and lost 50-21. DC could not recover from the three-try barrage to begin the match and played catch-up from the opening whistle.
“It was a rough game,” Cory Daniel said. “We definitely didn’t play our best and got away from the good things we were doing in the past few weeks. Our defense wasn’t there, our spacing was pretty poor at times, and we didn’t have much attack until the end of the game. We need to correct those things to get back to play how we know that we can play.”
“Defensive assignments went out the window for a little bit there,” head coach Nate Osborne echoed. “It’s something we’ll work on this week, and it’s an understanding of what our roles and responsibilities are in the patterns of defense. Likes James Willocks said in his review, it’s very hard to attack when you turn the ball over so frequently and quickly… To lay an egg like that is something we don’t want to do again and something we take responsibility for.”
New Lineup for Houston
The coaching staff is switching up the lineup, hoping change can usher in different results, especially in the forwards. Stan South and Luke Campbell have the week off while five new starters enter the fray in the pack. Jack Iscaro is joined by Mo Katz and Jake Ilnicki in the front row and Api Naikitini takes over for South in locks with Tevita Naqali. The new back row features Dom Bailey and Cory Daniel at flanker and Fintan Coleman making his first start at eightman.
In the backs, Renata Roberts-Te Nana returns from injury at fullback. His experience should stabilize the backline as it remains mostly unchanged. The unit of captain Danny Tusitala, Rohan Saifoloi, Junior Sa’u, Willie Talataina, and Peni Lasaqa are back, with John Rizzo slotting in at wing.
Coach Osborne has decided on a 5-3 split on the bench. One of the original OGs is back as Josh Brown joins Kyle Stewart, Rob Irimescu, Felix Kalapu, and Will Vakalahi as the forward reserves. John Lefevre, Owen Sheehy, and Doug Fraser will be the impact subs in the backs.
Houston on a Mission
The SaberCats have been on a tear lately, with their first visit to DC coming on Saturday. At 8-5, Houston is in third place in the MLR Western Conference and only trails LA by three standing points. However, the next three tests are crucial for Houston’s playoff hopes, and a team it has never beaten is on deck this weekend.
“They are very South African [with many players and coaches],” Osborne said. “They have a very good set-piece and very good at controlling the territory by kicking a lot… We’re expecting them to be physical and play the territory game. We are looking forward to the physical encounter and proving people wrong. As much as we all would like to forget last week, we want to prove we’re better than what we showed [against NOLA].”
Houston is led by captain Dean Muir, who along with center Louritz van der Schyff, each have three tries in the last three games. With solid performances on both sides of the ball, Juan Pablo Zeiss and Dan Coetzer were named the MLR’s First XV in last weekend’s 31-27 win over Utah. Combine that with Eagles Christian Dyer, Siaosi Mahoni, Malon Al-Jiboori, and Matai Leuta, the Sabercats are playing their best rugby of the season.
“Houston is a very physical team,” Daniel said. “They have a lot of big strong ball carriers, and they want to punish you upfront. A lot of phases are around the corner with their forwards and eventually get the ball out to the backs. It’s a pretty simple game plan that they have, but they execute it very well.”
Return to Winning at Segra Field
Getting back to the comfort and security of home is exactly what Old Glory needs after a grueling road trip. DC won its last two games at Segra and hopes to shock the MLR on Saturday.
“We just need to be better on defense,” Osborne said. “They are going to give us a lot of ball, and we are either going to hang ourselves or look like cowboys. So when they give us opportunities, we need to take them.”
“We need to find the space and exploit it in attack and kicking,” Daniel added. “After our forwards run up and hit the middle, we need to do a better job of getting the ball out and letting our playmakers go to work. Find that kick and running space and exploit it.”
“This week is about beating them up as a team and winning and losing as a team,” Osborne said. “It’s a ‘prove it’ week for them and for us as well, as they have never made the playoffs. It’s one of those games where they need to win to get in, and we need to end some people’s seasons.”