A spirited late rally from the LA Giltinis tonight came up short in Georgia where Rugby ATL took bragging rights for Major League Rugby’s Eastern Conference.
The Giltinis fell 17-12 but extended play three-and-a-half minutes beyond regular time with their most sustained attacking surge as they searched in vain for a match-winning try.
Full credit to Rugby ATL for finding a clutch counter-ruck to stall the desperate Giltinis at the death after throwing up a brick wall in defence all night.
The Giltinis were down 17-5 with just over five minutes to play when big-hearted flanker Angus Cottrell found a strikeback try with a piercing charge from a 5m tap penalty.
The momentum at the finish came too late from the Giltinis who were on the back foot from the moment lock Luke White was red carded for dangerous contact to the head when rucking at the 35-minute mark.
“Atlanta were good. They were up in our face all night and I think everyone can see how legitimate MLR is as a league after a match like that,” Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman said.
“We had a better crack in the second half after being out-enthused early but didn’t execute well at important times and that includes our lineout failings.
“Teams are not falling out of the way and letting us play like at the start of the season so we have to look at our own game, when to throw our punches on attack and what variations we might make.”
The Giltinis remain atop the standings with an 8-2 record but 7-3 Rugby ATL have thrown down the gauntlet for the MLR Championship Series in July-August should the clubs duel again.
Rugby ATL scored 10 unanswered points to jump from 7-5 to 17-5 during the 20 minutes that the Giltinis were reduced to 14 men.
The superior Rugby ATL lineout, organised defence, shrewd field position kicking and two well-taken tries nullified the Giltinis.
This, despite the visitors from LA having 62 per cent of possession at Lupo Field, 30 minutes outside downtown Atlanta.
The vaunted Atlanta defence was smothering in the opening 20 minutes and forced several turnovers and two forward passes from the Giltinis.
It was the defensive wall that Coleman expected and it took a clever play off an attacking scrum to puncture it.
At the 30-minute mark, scrumhalf Harrison Goddard scooted to the openside before swinging a pass to flyhalf Matt Giteau cutting quickly to the shortside.
A sure pass put winger DTH van der Merwe (below) over in the corner to close the scores to 7-5.
The Giltinis’ pack had to handle two first half jolts.
Flanker Christian Poidevin was forced off after 27 minutes with a left collarbone injury before White’s exit.
The Atlanta pack pressured their undermanned Giltinis’ opponents for a scrum penalty late in the first half to earn three more points and a 10-5 lead at the break.
The brawny Atlanta pack looked every bit like a Night’s Watch corps, straight from Game of Thrones, with their collection of pigtails, mullets, flowing manes, beards, head tape and character-shaped noses.
The Giltinis were also their own worst enemies with bungled attacking lineouts. When replacement backrower Pago Haini seized a key turnover to open the second half, it put his side hard on attack.
The ensuing lineout was lost, the Atlanta side rode a Adriaan Carelse kick 60m upfield and launched their best raid of the Memorial Day clash.
Argentinian centre Bautista Ezcurra put on two left-foot sidesteps to slip through the defence before flicking the offload that put scrumhalf Ryan Rees over for 17-5.
Haini (below), with two turnovers playing hard on the ball, and Cottrell were strong while prop Charlie Abel was again a non-stop warhorse for 80 minutes.
Giteau tried short balls, long passes, a chip kick over the top and taking on the line himself but the Atlanta players scrambled well to shutdown most of the half chances created.
Replacement winger Ryan James made an impact. He dashed onto one Giteau long ball with time almost up and kept the move rolling with a top one-handed pass inside to send fellow winger John Ryberg away on his lone run of the night.
It was a fifth straight win for Rugby ATL, who solidify their position at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Giltinis head into a timely bye week with injured bodies to repair.
Hooker Lindsey Stevens headed to knee scans in hospital after being stretchered off in the second half while Billy Meakes, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Haini have a collection of ankle and knee strains to deal with.
LA GILTINIS 12
Tries: DTH van der Merwe (30m), Angus Cottrell (74)
Conversion: Luke Carty (74)
RUGBY ATL 17
Tries: Adriaan Carelse (21m), Ryan Rees (45)
Conversions: Adriaan Carelse (21, 45)
Penalty goals: Adriaan Carelse (39)
Red card: Luke White (35)
Half-time: 10-5 Rugby ATL