Following a two-game Texas sweep, Old Glory DC returns home on Sunday with a familiar opponent coming to the District. Preseason adversary Rugby ATL comes to Washington, D.C. this weekend and is nipping at OGDC’s heels in the MLR standings. Old Glory will look to play an 80-minute game and have that killer instinct to not let their opponent get back into the game. It all goes down at Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University on Sunday at 6:00 pm. The game is expected to sell out, so get your tickets now or watch live on CBS Sports Network.
The result against Austin furthered the progression of the club, but there are always takeaways to improve upon. The first half was some of the best rugby we have seen from Old Glory, however there were some lapses in the second half that allowed the Gilgronis back into the game. The defense bent but ultimately didn’t break, as the game was finally secured by a late try from Renata Roberts-Te Nana.
“There are some good bits and some disappointing bits,” head coach Andrew Douglas indicated. “We don’t have trouble attacking when we were getting front-foot ball. We just have to be more consistent in our approach, to be honest. We get pretty desperate in our 22 when we defend, we just have to be that desperate across the park. There was a strong breeze, but we could have been better into that wind. We had made a number of line breaks in the first ten minutes of the second half, but we didn’t capitalize on them. When we get a team by the throat, we got to squeeze a bit harder.”
The Austin game featured the third different front row combination in four weeks and the results were improved. The pack did have some difficulties, but it held its own. “It’s getting better,” Douglas stated. “There’s some improvement there. Each individual is trying hard. Mikey [Sosene-Feagai] is an experienced hooker, and he’s played at a pretty high level. He gave us confidence there, and that will continue the more game time he gets, the better he gets too. From Will [Vakalahi], I was really pleased and he played well and I’m looking for exciting things from him.”
Although Coach Douglas doesn’t put much weight into the MLR’s First XV selections, Jake Turnbull and Declan O’Donnell were honored as part of the squad. Turnbull did the dirty work playing the full 80 minutes at loosehead prop, made 13 tackles on defense, and led the team with a total of 26 ruck arrivals and eight cleanouts. O’Donnell had a motor that never stopped, his aerial skills were outstanding, played unselfishly, and led the team with 11 carries for 86 meters and three line breaks.
“Jake is playing really well at the moment,” Douglas said. “He has always had a high work-rate, he is very fit and very strong. Declan is doing what Declan has been doing the past three or four years. He’s been a 7s star, and he’s a product of the Maori All Blacks, so he’s playing his normal game. What you are seeing is a very good rugby player playing the rugby he should be playing.”
Coach Douglas went on to highlight the play of Sosene-Feagai in his first game back from injury, Danny Tusitala’s and Jason Robertson’s consistency at #9 and #10, Ciaran Hearn’s dependability in the centers, and Thretton Palamo’s physical dominance on defense (17 tackles).
One of the players that really stood out was eightman Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz. He was fourth on the squad, with nine carries for 66 meters, led the team with 20 tackles, and was active at the breakdown with a total of 22 ruck arrivals.
“[Jamason] is playing well,” Douglas praised. “Again, he is a very good rugby player playing the way he should be playing. He is a very good ball carrier, he’s quick off the mark, and he’s got a nice skill set.”
As for Sunday against Rugby ATL, Old Glory will be without the services of Tendai Mtawarira and Api Naikatini. Mtawarira is still recovering from a slight injury picked up in Houston two weeks ago, and Naikatini is being managed through the concussion protocol and will return as soon as that process allows. Both players are week-to-week and are expected to be back soon.
Old Glory should be familiar with Rugby ATL as it squared off against them in the preseason. “We know they have a strong set piece, they enjoy set piece, and defensively, they are pretty solid,” Douglas said. “They are improving all the time as well. They are a pretty disciplined team, and they work hard for each other, so it’s going to be a tough one. They are a young team that is doing really well. We’re expecting a big challenge from Atlanta.
Even though it lost 28-18 to Toronto, Atlanta held the halftime lead, out-gained (569 meters to 518) and out-tackled (138 to 99) the Arrows, but conceded eight more penalties. “They make the most of their series, their #10 (Kurt Coleman) is playing well, they try and strangle you. Toronto is quite a similar team to Atlanta, they play good set piece and they end up playing a lot in your own half. They will probably carry us around a little bit. We are obviously a little different so we will have to win our fair share of the ball in order to control possession.”
Douglas indicated that Old Glory’s biggest challenge against Rugby ATL is to stay in the game mentally. “We tend to phase in and out of games. When we are desperate, we’re good but we got to be desperate for 80 minutes. We talked a lot about that this week and wanting to stay in the game. When we get teams by the throat, just squeeze the life out of them. If we can focus for longer periods of time offensively and defensively, we’ll be OK. However, Atlanta is sending their best up and they are pretty consistent all the time.”
Lastly, the team can’t wait to be back in Cardinal Stadium on Sunday and have the electric and boisterous Old Glory faithful cheering in the stands. “The boys really enjoyed the Seattle game. The crowd was fantastic and they enjoyed the atmosphere. In the last weeks, they played in stadiums that haven’t been full and didn’t give you much of an atmosphere. It was a shame that it was a beautiful field down in San Antonio, a lovely stadium but not many people make it pretty hollow. To come back to Cardinal with a big crowd, the boys are excited,” Douglas concluded.