The LA Giltinis have roared back to top form with an eight-try blitz of power and precision to swamp the Houston SaberCats 52-5 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Sunday success lifted the Giltinis’ record to a perfect 6-0 on home turf and kept them clearly atop the Major League Rugby standings at 9-2.
The 47-point margin was the biggest of the Giltinis’ debut season against a SaberCats outfit which has faded since getting within 15 points in mid-April.
Skipper and lock Dave Dennis led from the front with his strong running, a try-saving tackle, excellent lineout work and his physical presence generally.
In the engine room, standout prop JP Smith celebrated a rare try double.
His second try midway through the second halfway was all strength and determination. He took a pass 10m out, kept his leg-drive strong through two tacklers and surged over the line with packmate Nathan Den Hoedt latched on as extra punch.
In the lead-up to the match, head coach Darren Coleman had urged more physicality and better protection of his team’s ruck ball.
He got both. Sustained pressure and patience for the opening five minutes enabled Smith to make a final stretch at the tryline for the opening score.
Scrumhalf Harrison Goddard laid on a perfect switch pass inside at the back of a ruck to create a channel for winger DTH van der Merwe after 13 minutes.
The classy Canadian Test legend crossed for his 10th try of the season under his third hairstyle of the year. His hair seems to have caught the pink rinse from being in a washing machine with the players’ socks for this latest look.
Fullback Glenn Bryce relished his return. There was no sign of his ankle injury when he dashed 45m to score his try late in the first half after an excellent passing interchange between Goddard, prop Charlie Abel and van der Merwe.
“That was definitely the game we were looking for. We were more physical and direct and got back to the way we can play,” coach Coleman said.
“We kept the foot on the throat too but we also have to keep it in perspective playing against the bottom-ranked team.
“Dave Dennis was excellent for us. He won our players’ player award.
“At half-time, we set ourselves the challenge of keeping them tryless. We conceded one try but the defence overall was strong.”
Goddard’s pinpoint kicking grabbed big territory gains on three occasions while the Giltinis employed more high kicks to chase and press for advantage.
Centre Luke Burton’s strong defence was impressive in the first half.
Flyhalf Matt Giteau exemplified the urgency of the Giltinis, even at 26-0, when he dived full-length to secure a loose ball on defence just after half-time.
Replacement backrower Pago Haini scored two tries from strong, team lineout drives in the second half while replacement centre Seru Vularika scored his first try for the club on a switch play worked with Giteau.
The one downside was losing forwards Angus Cottrell (corked knee), Christian Poidevin (foot) and Corey Thomas (shoulder) to injuries. Thomas and Poidevin will have scans on Monday. Centre Billy Meakes found himself packing as a flanker for the final quarter of the match and proclaimed himself “The Scrum Doctor” post-match for his perceived role in several strong scrums.
New recruit Gelen Robinson impressed at hooker in his 24 minutes off the bench in just his 11th game of rugby. He opened with a forceful front-on tackle befitting a former defensive tackle making the switch from American football.
With former Colorado XOs team-mate Ma’ake Muti packing beside him, Robinson finished the game at the heart of a strong scrum shunt for a penalty.
“I was delighted we could give Gelen and Ma’ake decent minutes. That’s an impressive effort from Gelen being so new to rugby,” Coleman said.
The Giltinis will head down the freeway for next Sunday’s “California Derby” against the 5-7 San Diego Legion at Torero Stadium from 3pm (PT).
LA GILTINIS 52
Tries: JP Smith (5 min, 55), Pago Haini (50, 69), DTH van Der Merwe (13), Christian Poidevin (24), Glenn Bryce (34), Seru Vularika (64)
Conversions: Matt Giteau (13, 24, 34, 55, 64), Luke Burton (69)
HOUSTON SABERCATS 5
Tries: Diego Magno (74)
Half-time: 26-0 Giltinis
Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum