Redemption on Deck in the First Match Against NOLA Gold
By Evan Lappen
With redemption on its mind after the club’s only loss last year, Old Glory DC was granted its wish to start the 2021 season back in New Orleans this weekend. NOLA Gold served up a brutal 46-13 defeat to welcome DC to the league in 2020, and Old Glory made it a point to return to the Gold Mine at Airline to begin its second chapter. NOLA is ready with an improved backline to add to its already stellar forward pack. OGDC has something to prove, and it will attempt to knock off the favored Gold on the road.
Last season’s loss is still fresh for Old Glory. However, the stumble turned into a learning experience. “We got well beaten, and it was embarrassing,” Head Coach Andrew Douglas said. “It’s pretty simple. It was one of those things where we went down a bit unsure of what we were facing, and we had a reality check given to us. We didn’t win any ball that day, our set-piece was poor, and our defense wasn’t as good as it should have been. NOLA was really on its game and exposed us. It was a good wake-up call for us to get into the season.”
That wake-up call sparked a four-game winning streak, and Old Glory clamored for a rematch to start the 2021 season. “The only way to solve the problem is to confront it,” wing and center Doug Fraser said. “We can’t hide from it. We can’t run from it. We know we got embarrassed there last year, so we needed to fix it. We all love that Andrew [Douglas], Pump [John Manson], and the staff pushed the [MLR] schedulers to get us that [rematch against NOLA]. They are a really good side and have been for the last couple of years. It will be tough regardless, but we just need to go back and confront our issues there.”
NOLA will be ready and has put in the work to improve on its 3-2 record from last season. The Gold coaching staff has brought back most of the squad while adding key playmakers to the team. With its dominant forward pack remaining mostly intact, the Gold’s primary focus was improving the backline. The addition of South African JP de Plessis from the San Diego Legion and Argentinian Juan Cappiello gives NOLA significant firepower in the centers. At the same time, the signing of Timothée Guillimin provides depth at flyhalf. These offseason pickups will only enhance returning Robbie Coleman, Carl Meyer, and Julian Domínguez in the backs.
Old Glory’s revamped front row will be challenged immediately against one of the MLR’s best and most menacing forward packs. Known for an aggressive scrum and maul, the NOLA’s front row of Matt Harmon, Eric Howard, and Dino Waldren are at the top of the league. Flanker Devin Short from San Diego joins the backrow with Moni Tonga’uiha, Andrew Guerra, and USA Eagle Cam Dolan. Second row Kyle Baillie served as the captain during the Gold’s lone 24-14 preseason win over Houston.
“They have been a quality side for the last couple of years, and they just keep creating more and more depth,” Fraser said. “They have a really strong forward pack, and we saw that last year. It is impressive that they kept a lot of that intact while bringing in a lot of talent in the backline like JP du Plessis. He is an outstanding center, and that’s a big pickup for them. They are creating more depth there, and they are really strong. That’s why this week is so big for us. We need to focus and buckle down. Like we learned last year, it’s not easy to go to other places and win. It’s always hard to win on the road.”
As for Old Glory, it will be an uphill battle entering the game cold without a preseason match. “It hasn’t been ideal, obviously,” Douglas said. “We’ve had to work our kinks against ourselves. Usually, you can play a game, expose yourself in a few areas, work hard to fix them, and you can try different things that might work. We haven’t had that opportunity because you can only do so much working against yourself. You have to be careful playing 15 on 15 because you have 30 players on the field that can get injured.”
“It’s hard to replicate a game in training,” Douglas continued. “You do your best to get a certain amount of contact and high-speed work in, but it’s hard to replace a game. However, we have enough experienced players to know what it takes, and I hope that will be able to get us through.”
That experience will come from the men Old Glory relied on last season, as well as new additions brought in to fill needs. DC will look to recapture the intensity it had during the last season’s winning streak that saw Danny Tusitala, Jason Robertson, Thretton Palamo, Mungo Mason, Api Naikatini, and Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz excel. Additionally, DC expects big contributions from its offseason haul in Callum Gibbins, Jamie Dever, Steven Longwell, Luke Campbell, Casey Renaud, Sam Cusano, and Dmontae Noble.
Coach Douglas will have many difficult decisions to make to get to his gameday 23, especially in the forwards and at wing. “It’s a hard one. You are going on your gut, and you are going on what you know about players, experience, and training. There are a variety of factors going into choosing the team. I’ll sit down with Callum Gibbins and narrow it down. The guys have really put their hands up in training, guys we know and trust.”
“I’m excited to see our front row go,” Douglas said of Jamie Dever, Mikey Sosene-Feagai, Steven Longwell, Jack Iscaro, James King, Maxwell Lum, and Dante Lopresti. “There is going to be pressure on them. I think our scrum has been talked about more than anything else over the last year. Our front row has been really good, but they are meeting a quality front row against NOLA, certainly one of the best scrummaging teams in the league. I’m curious on seeing how that challenge will go.”
As for strategy against NOLA, Douglas was cagey but did indicate that the set piece will be key. “We are going to have to win our own ball, and defensively, we have to be really strong. We probably leaked a bit too much last season and allowed NOLA to get on the front foot. We then have to be patient. We didn’t get a lot of ball last year, and the ball we did have, we wasted it quite a bit. We have to match up physically, and that will affect our set-piece and defense.”
There has been a ton of buildup and anticipation over the last year, and it culminates in New Orleans. When asked what he is looking forward to the most, Fraser responded, “I’d say the first big hit. You just don’t get to do that anymore unless you are actually playing a game. I think everybody is looking forward to that physical confrontation.”
In fact, all of DC is patiently waiting for that first hit. Coach Douglas put it best, “It’s much more fun hitting people that aren’t your friends.”