Rugby ATL Returns for Old Glory DC’s Home Debut at Segra Field

By Evan Lappen

After battling to a draw versus its first-round opponent, Old Glory DC makes its new home debut at Segra Field in Leesburg, Va. against a familiar adversary on Saturday. DC edged out a 31-29 hard-fought victory over Rugby ATL in the final match last year, and now, the Ratlers return to even the score. The Old Glory defense and scrums highlighted last week’s performance; however, DC may have met its equal with Saturday’s challenger. It will be a test of whoever breaks first and brings the almighty “W” to its fans. The game will be broadcast on Saturday at 5:00 pm EST on NBC Sports Washington Plus and The Rugby Network.

Although last Sunday’s game against NOLA ended in a tie, Old Glory’s coaches learned many valuable lessons for the road ahead. The positives taken from NOLA were the defensive effort, the scrum success, and the retention of the creativity in the backs and thunder in the forwards.

DC was the second busiest team in the MLR on defense with 151 total tackles, with flanker Callum Gibbins leading the team and tied for the league total with 19 tackles. Man of the Match Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz was everywhere with 15 tackles, 14 ruck arrivals, and three momentum-grabbing breakdown steals.

As for the scrum success, the results were clear. The new front row of Jamie Dever, Mikey Sosene-Feagai, and Steven Longwell held its own and won all eight scrums versus NOLA compared to only winning 68.6% in the five games last year. While it’s early in the season, Old Glory hopes the trend will continue. However, the lineout started well but faltered down the stretch.

Lastly, with opportunity, the offense caught fire. Danny Tusitala and Jason Robertson controlled the tempo and provided the theatrics leading both to be selected to the MLR’s Geico First XV. Tusitala, the league’s Player of the Week, scored both of DC’s highlight reel tries, and Robertson was perfect with the boot going 4/4 on penalties and one conversion. The two combined for nine carries for 134 meters and 12 kicks for 312 meters.

Player/coach Gibbins liked the grit and effort he saw and how the team is adopting the playing style the coaching staff is preaching in training. “Defensively, [NOLA] scored an early try on us from a lineout maul, and when that happens early in a game, it’s hard to come back from. They played that corner maul for the first thirty minutes of the game, and they scored in the first five minutes.

“After that, we held them out. They had a crack; our forwards defended really well there. They spun it wide, and our backs came up with that [defensive] connection and turned them over. They had another crack. The same thing, we stopped their maul, they went wide and dropped the ball. When you are attacking a try line and you are not coming away with points, it’s tough on the team that is attacking. That first-half defensive effort was quite vital in how we win.

“On the back of the [defensive pressure], Mikey [Sosene-Feagai] grabbed the ball from a turnover, and Danny [Tusitala] was under the posts,” Gibbins continued. “Similarly, we had a lineout drive; Danny went short side and scored again in the corner. We feel like we can turn the ball over and score from anywhere on the field, so we are quite dangerous in that aspect. It was built on the defensive effort from the first 20 minutes.”

With Rugby ATL coming to town on Saturday, the Ratlers will be on a mission to avenge its two-point loss from a year ago. Atlanta showed that it is not messing around by knocking off the perceived favorites in the Eastern Conference last weekend, 21-14. The Toronto Arrows were limited to just two tries in the first 15 minutes of the game and were shut out for the rest of the match. ATL led the league with 163 tackles and was locked in with its lineout winning 15 of 16 balls. However, the club also led the league with 21 penalties and lost half of their own scrums.

“They are a very good team,” head coach Andrew Douglas said. “They are very structured and physical with a good set-piece. It’s a tough one, to be honest, especially with a short turnaround. It’s a big ask for us. We are expecting a very physical game against Atlanta.”

The Atlanta forward pack is filled with heavy hitters led by captain Matt Heaton. Lock Johan Momsen and Marno Redelinghuys were very active on both sides of the ball combining for 27 tackles, 33 ruck arrivals, 15 carries for 73 meters, and 11 lineout takes in week one. Flanker Connor Cook is one to watch after joining the club from Colorado, and prop Chance Wenglewski scored a bulldozing try early in the match.

“Their lock (Johan Momsen) is a vital player to their forward pack,” Gibbins said. “All of their lineouts run through him. He carries really well; he’s strong and competes at everything. Their captain (Matt Heaton) on the open side was another hard worker. He will be in the game for 80 minutes. Their whole forward pack is based around that mentality. It’s great to see big ball carriers wanting to stay in the game all game. They are a very dangerous pack. Their inside center (Bautista Ezcurra) is another great ball carrier. They have firepower all over the park.”

Coach Douglas knows that his team will be in for a fight. “Our set-piece has to improve, especially the lineout. We have to defend really well because they have big bodies charging at you. We have to be patient and control the ball for long periods of time because we threw a lot of ball away against NOLA. It would be nice to hold the ball for longer periods of time.”

Gibbins echoed that sentiment saying, “If we attack the way we did against NOLA, we won’t have much of a chance. We didn’t look after the ball that well, and every time we built up pressure, we turned it over. We have to look after the ball and go through phases. We can’t expect to score off one play so we have to build pressure, stick to the gameplan that Douglas got us playing and training, and trust the systems in place. Hoping from there, we can build pressure and find space. We got to go through a lot of hard work before the try is scored.”

Without a preseason, the team is a work in progress, but the squad isn’t making up any excuses. This is a professional competition, and every win starts with the effort and determination on the practice field and in the meeting room to build a true champion. A new tradition starts on Saturday at Segra Field when DC returns to Nation’s Capital to victory for the Old Glory faithful.