Kicking off the 2022 MLR season, Old Glory DC begins its third MLR campaign with a Saturday afternoon showdown against the defending Eastern Conference champion, Rugby ATL at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, Ga. Will OGDC surprise MLR with an upset over the conference champs, or will Atlanta continue to dominate the East? On Saturday at 3:00 pm, we’ll find out when the match will be streamed live on The Rugby Network.
Week One XV Predictions
While the lineup for Saturday has not been announced, the first 15 should mirror what fans saw against New England last Friday at The St. James. The starting lineup has undergone many notable changes since last season in Head Coach Andrew Douglas’ attempt to evolve the culture and character of the club.
With an impressive preseason, Jack Iscaro looks to have won the loosehead spot, while newcomers Jake Ilnicki and Kyle Stewart have been battling at tighthead prop. After a hat trick versus the Free Jacks, Mo Katz has grasped the starting hooker job, with Rob Irimescu backing him up. Stan South and Api Naikatini are the men in the engine room, and a stout Tevita Naqali will be ready to spell his compatriots.
At flanker, starters Dom Bailey and Cory Daniel are dealing with minor bumps but should be good to go on Saturday. Additionally, Luke Campbell and Fintan Coleman are coming on strong in the back row. Lastly, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz is the stalwart at eightman and is out to prove he is best at his position in the USA.
“Jack Iscaro, watching him develop, he seems like he’s going to have a good season,” said Thretton Palamo, who unfortunately is still recovering from injury. “Jama is a strong staple for us. With everyone else playing their role, it will be a lot easier for Jama to display his strengths against the opponents this season.”
Scrumhalf Danny Tusitala takes the reins as captain this season. Coach Douglas praised Tusitala’s leadership, saying, “Danny is pretty experienced and has a lot of respect on the squad. He knows the league pretty well by now and understands how we want to play the game.”
With Rohan Saifoloi still awaiting his visa, Mike “Chicken” Dabulas will start at flyhalf while non-stop Owen Sheehy takes over at fullback. Two off-season signees, versatile William Talataina and the hammer, Junior Sa’u, will start in the centers. At wing, the dynamic Renata Roberts-Te Nana and the human Swiss Army knife Doug Fraser will man the corners.
“Chicken has some pretty good kicking and got us out of trouble last game,” Palamo added. “It looks like he is understanding the game more and seeing it better than he did last year. Finally, Danny Tusitala has lost weight and feels pretty solid. He can get around the pitch, be more explosive, and more of a threat at the line.”
Preview on Rugby ATL
As for Saturday’s opponent, Rugby ATL hosts its first home game since its 31-17 defeat to the LA Giltinis in the 2021 MLR Final. Atlanta lost a few of its heavy hitters in the off-season but re-signed most of its core and added some lethal playmakers.
2021 MLR Forward of the Year Johan Momsen leads from the front and is a terror on both sides of the ball. A pair of South Africans, John-Roy Jenkinson and Justin Basson, signed with the club to bolster the forward pack. In the front row, Jenkinson will team up with Alex Maughan, Marko Janse van Rensburg, and Wikus Groenewald. Last year’s captain Matt Heaton is back at flanker, and Daemon Torres, Ross Deacon, Vili Helu, and Connor Cook return to the back row. Coming over in a trade from Rugby New York, Evan Mintern is a beast with position flexibility.
To compensate for the loss of Bautista Ezcurra, Robbie Petzer, and Mark O’Keeffe, the Ratlers traded for Will Leonard and signed Argentine Joaquín de la Vega Mendía. Leonard will join Ryan Nell and Martini Talapusi in the centers, while de la Vega Mendía will get his shot at fullback. Te Rangatira Waitokia and Austin White are set at wing to complete the back three.
The offense runs through playmaking Kurt Coleman at flyhalf. The South African was paired with Ryan Rees against NOLA in the preseason; however, he will face competition from Duncan van Schalkwyk and Rowan Gouws.
Underdogs in Week One
Old Glory split its games against Rugby ATL last season, but in each game, DC had to battle back from double-digit deficits. To avoid repeating history, Coach Douglas said, “If you got the ball, you control the game. They have a strong set-piece and a good defense. So I think if we start our set-piece well and control the tempo of the game, we’ll be in a good place.”
“We have to front physically and defend well,” Douglas remarked. “If we can shut them down and frustrate them, it will go a long way into helping us. We have to be more physical than we have been… and set-piece has become important. If you can’t count on your own ball, you are always in trouble. So we’ll probably kick a lot to them, try to force them back, and keep putting it high.”
With it being the beginning of the season, many of the rugby pundits predict that Old Glory will finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Douglas scoffed at the notion and indicated that it would only fuel his team to perform better.
“If that’s what people think about, they are obviously not good rugby people,” Douglas said. “They don’t know much about the game and the players we have. Those sorts of statements show ignorance more than knowledge. We are pretty comfortable in ourselves and confident in what we’re doing. Last season was disappointing, so that’s what people probably judge us on. It doesn’t worry us a lot, and it’s great motivation for us.”