Toronto Comes to Old Glory DC for First Ever Test
By Evan Lappen
Old Glory DC welcomes a new opponent to the Nation’s Capital as the Toronto Arrows come to Segra Field in Leesburg, Va. on Saturday. The Arrows don’t have a win in their quiver this season but are an experienced and skillful club that many predicted to be the top contender in the MLR’s Eastern Conference. It will be a tall order for Old Glory on Saturday, and you can watch all of the action at 5:00 pm EST on NBC Sports Washington and the Rugby Network.
Although the victory over Atlanta was monumental, it’s only the first step in a season that is already confronting difficulties. Faced with injuries to the backline last week, head coach Andrew Douglas made the late week switch to replace Jason Robertson and Ciaran Hearn in the lineup. Mike Dabulas was the first option at flyhalf; however, he too was not 100% with a hamstring strain. Danny Tusitala was next in line to #10 and Sean Hartig started at scrumhalf.
In the match versus Rugby ATL, the offense didn’t get into gear until the second half when Douglas decided to substitute Dabulas at flyhalf and move Tusitala to #9. The offense took off and scored 24 straight points en route to the 30-23 defeat of the Ratlers.
With no new injuries to report and Robertson and Hearn not expected to return until after the bye, Coach Douglas will look to field a similar starting lineup against Toronto that you saw in the second half a week ago.
Known as the ‘three Es of the front row’, Jamie Dever, Mikey Sosene-Feagai, and Stevey Longwell have turned a liability of last year into a dominant presence this season. Api Naikatini and Tevita Naqali have been steadfast in the locks and the addition of Stan South makes the group even deeper. Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, who is making a sizable push for the starting #8 job with the Eagles, along with experienced flankers Callum Gibbins and Mungo Mason, complete a back row trio that rivals the best in the MLR.
“The last two games for us have given our whole pack a lot of confidence,” captain Mungo Mason said. “We’ve changed from being a fast, dynamic pack from last year to being the bigger guys on the field. It has given us the confidence to do a bit of bullying and muscle up and be physical. We are not going to hold anything back on Saturday.”
In the backs, Tusitala, the league’s leading scorer, will look to return to his natural position at #9 and team up with Dabulas at flyhalf. Doug Fraser will start versus his Canadian comrades at inside center, while the savvy veteran Thretton Palamo mans the outside. Rookie wings Sam Cusano and Dmontae Noble impressed against Atlanta and fullback Renata Roberts Te-Nana has excelled as the last line of defense.
On the opposite side of the field, the Toronto Arrows are a team waiting to fulfill their potential. After losing Richie Asiata and Sam Malcolm in the offseason, the Arrows are a work in progress but are chock-full of international players with a ton of experience and ability. Unfortunately, the squad is still searching for that winning formula.
“They have a strong roster with a lot of international players, whether they be of Canadian or South American origin,” Douglas said. “They were probably the MLR favorites before the season started. We have to be really wary of them because they have good enough players that can still hurt teams. They are still pretty structured and organized and that’s only going to improve with more game time. They will be better than their last two games and will be tough to beat.”
While the front row has struggled in the scrum, the rest of the pack is formidable. Lock Mike Sheppard is a beast and the back row of Tomás De La Vega, Lucas Rumball, and Manuel Diana can take over a game. For the backs, Tayler Adams is shifty at flyhalf, Joaquín Tuculet brings leadership to the back three, and Manuel Montero is explosively quick off the bench at wing.
“They have threats across the park and are an experienced squad,” Douglas stated. “They are going to be dangerous because they are under pressure now. If they go three losses on the trot, that puts them in a pretty dark hole… A roster so strong, I can’t see that pattern persevering. They are going to start beating teams sooner or later, I just hope it’s not Saturday.”
The keys to the game for Old Glory will be strong forward play especially with the locks and back row, maintaining possession for longer periods of time, increasing the tempo and work rate around the park, and deploying a stout defense in the backline to combat its Toronto counterparts.
For the Arrows, they need to score early, as Toronto has only held the lead for a total of four minutes in two games. Additionally, the Arrows have to shut down OGDC’s forwards in the loose and dictate the pace with their pattern of play.
This weekend will be the second match at Segra Field and Old Glory is feeling the home-field advantage. “It was fantastic and exciting,” Mason stated. “For a small cohort of fans, they made some noise. It just gives us everything to play for. We definitely want to push Old Glory as a family-based club and that’s what it felt like. We are really looking forward to filling that baby up and getting 5,000 seats full by the end year.”
As for Mason’s hair situation on the pitch, “It didn’t look particularly professional. I think I need to get rid of it. It’s not good. I look like a bloody tosser when I’m running about and it’s flying all over. I promise it will be better on Saturday.”