Old Glory are back in action this weekend as we hit the road to face the Houston SaberCats for what will be our tenth match of the 2023 MLR season.
We come into the match sporting a 4-5 record, sitting third in the Eastern Conference, just one point off NOLA Gold in second place. Our recent run of form, which has seen us win back to back matches against New York and Utah, has propelled DC from fifth place in the division to having a realistic chance of qualifying for the playoffs, but a strong performance will be needed this weekend to help achieve that end.
That victory over the Utah Warriors feels like so long ago, so let’s indulge in a quick little recap. To cut a long story short, just about everything went right for Old Glory. We opened the scoring after just five minutes through Peni Lasaqa and again shortly after through Nick Souchon. We carried the momentum throughout the first half, following it up with an immense defensive showing in the second to secure a 36-22 victory.
This victory pushed us a long way up the tables, and, despite the bye week, Old Glory will be looking to carry the momentum and continue our playoff charge, so let’s take a look at the team standing in the way of that goal.
Looking purely at the numbers, the Dallas Jackals are one of the worst performing teams in MLR, with just one win to their name with ten matches played and a paltry nine points, a tally so meagre that the average household Golden Retriever could probably comprehend the acute degree to which the team is underperforming.
In fairness to the Jackals, 2023 is only their second MLR campaign, so they could be doing worse. One win is better than none, eh? Said win, which was the franchise’s first ever victory after going 0-16 in their maiden season, came in early April in the form of a 14-11 victory over the Toronto Arrows, one of just two MLR teams with a worse record.
That is not to say that there aren’t signs of promise at Choctaw Stadium. There has admittedly been a slew of quite cataclysmic defeats, including a 61-19 drubbing in Seattle and a 22-0 shutout defeat in San Diego, but for every abrasive schooling from a division leader there has been a more promising, hairline defeat. These include a 38-47 loss in their second attempt at San Diego, a 33-21 loss to Texas rivals Houston, and a 24-22 loss to fellow new kids, the Chicago Hounds. Other interesting yet less relevant results from the 2022 MLR season include a 0-57 loss to Toronto Arrows and a 7-74 loss to Seattle, who seem to have made a habit of having their way with the Jackals.
At risk of jinxing the team, it necessarily follows that this weekend’s match is one that Old Glory should win comfortably. We are a stronger, more experienced side on better form. The numbers speak for themselves. Speaking statistically, Dallas is the second worst team in the league in terms of both points scored and points conceded, touting a points difference of -139. With one less game under their belt this season, Old Glory have scored 88 more points than their hosts (258-170) and conceded 55 fewer (254-309). The only notable ace up the Jackals’ sleeve is the home field advantage, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t worth a massive amount.
Regardless, it is still important to consider which Jackals might stand the best chance of spoiling our Texas vacation. Their top scorer, Argentine fly half Martin Elias, has amassed 27 points in seven starts this season, followed by his fellow countryman, back row Jeronimo Gomez Vara, with 25. Both men have made appearances for Los Pumas and will be worth looking out for on Saturday afternoon. Another notable ex-Puma is Tomas Malanos, who has played every minute of the season thus far for the Jackals, with three tries in 800 minutes of play.
Switching back to Old Glory, I’m not looking forward to having to choose just one or two players to keep an eye on, with the team’s recent form making the decision incredibly difficult. A player who I have been hugely impressed by since his signing back in early April is Langilangi Haupeakui, who has dominated games from the back of the pack with every appearance he has made since signing. He is a hard runner in attack and a stalwart tackler in defence. I imagine he will make headlines again this weekend.
Another new signing who is yet to make his debut for Old Glory is Kiwi wonderkid Nike Jones. The 22-year-old flanker has arrived in DC and will likely be in the squad this weekend looking for his first minutes in Old Glory colours. With the legacy of his father, All Black living legend Sir Michael Jones, at his back, there are surely big things to come from Niko. And plenty to look forward to for the OGDC faithful. Welcome to the District, Niko!
Finally, el capitán Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz is on the form of his life. Since shifting from eight-man to flanker he has been simply imperious. He has always been a force on the field, but in recent weeks he has been better than ever.
By Arthur Ferridge, @rthur_ferridge