Coming into Week 12 of the MLR season, many pundits and fans predicted that our match with the Dallas Jackals would be among the easiest of our season so far, given their solidified status as one of the worst performing teams in the league. The match did indeed turn out to be a fairly easy one, but for quite a different reason: it only lasted forty minutes, courtesy of a massive thunderstorm hitting Choctaw Stadium just after the halftime whistle.
Lucky for Old Glory, we carried a narrow 3-7 lead into halftime courtesy of Willy Talataina’s try on the last play of the first half, with MLR regulations stating that the result would stand as half of the match had been played.
So, how did it all go down in the Lone Star State?
The opening stages were challenging for Old Glory. Dallas enjoyed the majority of the possession after receiving the kick-off, with a string of DC penalties preventing us from establishing a grip on the match. The Jackals chose to go for points with one of these early penalties, with fly-half Martin Elias slotting it to put his team up 3-0 after just four minutes.
One might have guessed that these early points would have led to a high scoring affair, but no more points would be scored for almost 35 minutes. One glimmer of hope came as Danny Tusitala managed to dot down a try just minutes after the opening penalty, following through on Willy Talataina’s line break, but an earlier obstruction offense in the build-up saw the try chalked off. While the team carried this momentum in their play, we still couldn’t manage to break down the Dallas stronghold for much of the first period.
Misery compounded in the 28th minute, as Langilangi Haupeakui was banished to the sin bin after putting a stop to a penalty taken quickly, which the referee rather dramatically called “a cynical foul.” In a game as even as this, one might have expected this booking to be a death sentence for Old Glory, but it had quite the opposite effect. The OGs rallied and produced some of their best attacking play of the match so far, building brilliant momentum before finally getting the ball over the line just after Haupeakui returned to the pitch.
Old Glory were awarded a scrum on the five-meter line, which we won before spinning the ball wide to Gradyn Bowd, who in turn found Talataina who did what he does best, breaking tackles and powering into the in-goal for his eighth try of the 2023 MLR season. Bowd slotted the conversion to take the scoreline to 3-7 in our favour at halftime, a scoreline which would be made final as the heavens opened just minutes later to prematurely curtail the match.
Analysing a match cut short just halfway through is difficult, but there are a couple of interesting themes to take note of.
Some early season niggles came back to bite Old Glory. A major roadblock in our quest for points was a slew of handling errors, from knock-ons to dropped passes. Granted, the conditions were hot, humid, and wet, just about the worst combination possible for slick passing, but shaking off these mistakes proved tricky. This, when combined with our suboptimal legal discipline, made it difficult for the side to establish a good foothold.
On the flip side, our set pieces were fantastic, stealing a handful of Dallas’ lineouts and overpowering the scrums in spite of a picky referee. We also handled ourselves well in defence. While the offense was working hard to find a spark, we prevented Dallas from making any serious ground, a fact which helped to secure our halftime victory.
This win marks our first away victory of the season so far, and while we were robbed of an opportunity to push for bonus points, the win will no doubt be a huge boost for team morale and the push for the playoffs.
Next time out, Old Glory will return to the DMV to host the New England Free Jacks for the second time this season in a top-of-the-table Eastern Conference clash with massive playoff implications. We hope to see you there!
-by Arthur Ferridge, @rthur_ferridge