After nearly pulling off an upset last weekend, Old Glory DC travels to the Big Easy on Saturday for a much-anticipated match against the NOLA Gold. DC has never beaten the Gold, and each game has been full of memorable, hotly-contested moments. Old Glory has improved its play ever since losing to NOLA in late March, while the Gold have dropped five straight. Add in that the match will be head coach Nate Osborne’s 50th in the MLR against his former team; there is a lot at stake on Saturday night. Watch it all unfold at 8:00 pm on the Rugby Network and tape-delayed at 10:30 pm on NBC Sports Washington.
Lessons Learned Versus the Free Jacks
Despite the loss against New England, Old Glory took many positives from the effort and will use them going forward into its final four games.
“Knowing that we can go toe-to-toe with the best team in the league and only lose by six points gives us confidence that we can beat or be at the level with any other team in the league,” William Talataina said.
“More than anything, it gives us confidence that if we buy into the game plan, we can win,” Coach Osborne stated. “Talking to the playmakers, they realize that they went away from the plan a little bit and got a little scoreboard pressure. It was the first week we emphasized a game plan on how to beat our opponent, and everyone realizes that if we stuck to it, we would have given ourselves more of a chance to win that game… If we get our understanding right and our effort, we’ll be really hard to beat.”
Little Change in Lineup for Saturday
For the first time all season, Old Glory DC will roll out an almost identical lineup as last weekend. The front row of Jack Iscaro, Rob Irimescu, and Kyle Stewart nearly played the entire game and combined for 38 tackles. Tevita Naqali and Stan South are the locks with Felix Kalapu, Cory Daniel, and Luke Campbell handling the back row. Campbell led the team with 17 tackles, Daniel was one behind at 16 (174 total, fourth in the MLR), and Kalapu was among the team leaders with 12 ball carries for 65 meters. Api Naikitini, Dom Bailey, Fintan Coleman, Jake Ilnicki, Mo Katz, and Jack Carroll will come off the bench in the forwards.
The coaching staff was impressed by the production from the backline against New England. Danny Tusitala earned an MLR First XV nod against the Free Jacks and his linemate Rohan Saifoloi contributed with his 13 kicks for 435 meters. Junior Sa’u scored his sixth try to equal Peni Lasaqa and added 13 tackles returning to inside center. William Talataina lines up at outside center with Lasaqa, Doug Fraser (two tries versus NE), and Owen Sheehy making up the back three. John Rizzo and Danny Thomas fill out the 6-2 split in the reserves. Renata Roberts-Te Nana is still on the mend and probably won’t be back until the New York game.
Intensity on Deck Against NOLA
“[The Gold] is an interesting team, and they play from everywhere,” Osborne said while describing his former outfit. “One of the things NOLA does really well is that they stick to their plan no matter what the score is. You will see that they are down 28-7 at halftime and if you look at the score at the end of the game is 36-33, and they had a chance to win. They don’t blink and they believe in [their plan] and stick to it.”
Although the Gold has a 3-9 record, NOLA should not be taken for granted. Multiple Eagles and capped internationals fill out their roster, and head coach Kane Thompson is poised to set his squad in the right direction. Captain Cam Dolan is the steadfast leader of the team, and the dynamic backline of Damian Stevens, Robbie Coleman, JP du Plessis, Juan Cappiello, Nick Feakes, Harley Wheeler, and JP Eloff can be lethal if not kept in check.
“Dolan is super-smart, and it’s hard to gameplan against him because he’s NOLA’s brains,” Osborne said. “Robbie Coleman is an unreal playmaker. We can’t give him time and space because he will make us look dumb. Moni Tonga’uiha is their physical presence. He’s a guy who moved from wing center to back row and ended up being capped by the Eagles. He carries hard and gets them on the front foot… They got so much talent across the board, but if we can rattle Dolan, make Robbie play early, and take Moni’s physicality away, that will go a long way to winning the game.”
“The last time we played NOLA, they were a physical side that surrounds the ball a lot,” Talataina explained. “They don’t kick too much. Unfortunately, they haven’t won since we played them, but hopefully, we can go in there this week with the same mentality and performance against New England. We just need to get the job done this time.”
A Lot at Stake in the Big Easy
With the opportunity to get out of the MLR cellar, secure its first win against NOLA, and get their head coach a victory versus his former club, Old Glory will be playing for more than a simple notch in the win column.
“This will be good for Coach,” Talataina added. “It won’t be the only thing he wants, but he will be preparing us the best he can, as well as Cully and James. They will be prepping us the best they can so we can put out a good performance for each other. The game will be won upfront. If we can get good go-forward ball, we can release our backs such as Rohan, Peni, Junior, and Dougie. They will be looking to win the battle upfront as well.”
“Both teams want to run the ball and play expansive rugby,” Osborne said. “We need to win the middle and be more physical than them… If you look at New York, Utah, and even the last game, we were the more physical, brutal team, and they had no answer. So we need to stick to our plan and win the middle.”
This game has circled for a while, and going back to NOLA will be a special day for Coach Osborne. “[It will be my] 50th game as an MLR coach, and going back to NOLA [will be emotional. However,] one of the things I’m really pushing this week is that Old Glory as a franchise has never beaten NOLA. It’s more important for me to get these guys to buy into the ‘we.’ It’s not about me, not about them wanting to play for me, it’s not about me winning. It’s about us and going down there and getting the first victory over NOLA.”