Match Report: Giltinis fall to Austin in Star's return

6 months ago

New Zealand rugby legend Orene Ai’i swapped coaching for a stunning comeback at 42 that came up short with the Los Angeles Giltinis in Austin tonight.

The skills of the ageless Ai’i were pivotal to a 9-0 lead at half-time before the Austin Gilgronis stormed home 22-9 in the Major League Rugby clash.

Ai’i, the Giltinis’ skills coach, was rushed into the starting side when flyhalf Luke Burton pulled out injured in the warm-ups at Bold Stadium in Texas.

Swapping clipboard for football boots enabled a flashback to the Kiwi playmaker’s prime before Facebook, Twitter and iPhones were even invented.

Ai’i played his first game of professional rugby for the Auckland-based Blues in Super Rugby in 2000 to ignite a brilliant career in NZ, France, Japan, the USA and rugby sevens worldwide.

His once-dazzling sidestep may stay in his holster these days but his kicking in general play, his passing touches, short and long, and poise were still there under grey-flecked hair.

His three-from-three goalkicking gave the Giltinis their 9-0 lead. The club’s first half dominance would have been reflected more fully if centre Will Chambers had not lost the ball just 5m out when taking a pass from Ai’i off a scrum move.

Ai’i stepped up superbly in an emergency, considering he hadn’t played a professional rugby game since 2016 with San Francisco Rush. He played 65 minutes to fill the hole left by top flyhalves Matt Giteau, Luke Carty and Burton being on the sidelines.

It was the Gilgronis who turned up after half-time with all the energy and precision that the Giltinis had shown in the first half.

The Gilgronis rise to 5-0 and will be celebrating the overthrown of their Championship-winning big brothers from LA, who sit at 2-2.

Loose ball-carries and a shaky lineout from the Giltinis gave the Gilgronis unearned chances which they clinically converted.

The Giltinis could not breach Rugby AG's sturdy defence over the 80 minutes while their Texan rivals managed three tries.

The Giltinis trailed 15-9 just past the hour mark when on attack and still believing in victory. An Ai’i pass did not go to hand, the Gilgronis toed the ball through and winger Conner Mooneyham crossed for his telling second try.

Prop Luke White, skipper Dave Dennis, flanker Angus Cottrell and centre Billy Meakes were prominent in the first half before the Gilgronis took control.

Young winger Kahanu Koi, just 18, and flanker Zach Bonte both made their MLR debuts over the final 15 minutes in a strong sign of the development power of the Giltinis Academy.

"I was proud of that first half. We had a lot of five-out-of-five players in that period but we fell away, made too many mistakes to start the second half and found ourselves chasing the game," Giltinis head coach Steve Hoiles said.

"That was an exceptional effort from Orene. He's 42 and keeps fit but nowhere near the load of a professional rugby player."

"He's a pretty wise old fella...he showed composure, gave us good territory with his kicking game and controlled things."

That's the quality of the guy. Because we've been short of backline players, he's jumped in at training over the past 10 days."I'm sure no MLR team has ever said 'well done' to two debutants, one of 42 and one of 18 (Koi)."


Try: Ryan Louwrens (44 min), Conner Mooneyham (54, 64)

Conversion: Will Magie (44, 64)

Penalty goal: Will Magie (42)



Penalty goals: Orene Ai’i (2, 10, 27)

Half-time: 9-0 Giltinis

Venue: Bold Stadium, Austin

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