A near-top strength LA Giltinis side has been selected for the club’s first play-off rumble on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Key strike players Matt Giteau, DTH van der Merwe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Billy Meakes and Harrison Goddard return to sharpen the backline.
In the pack, Dave Dennis is back as skipper to lead the way against the tough Utah Warriors in the make-or-break Western Conference final from 3pm (PT).
Corey Thomas, employed as a lock and flanker already this season, will start at No.8 after fulfilling his Test dream of playing for Canada earlier this month.
The Giltinis have stiffened their scrum for the battle up front with experienced JP Smith and New Zealander Marco Fepulea’i (pictured below) as props.
All nine players are fresh faces returning to start after missing the tight 34-29 loss to the Warriors last Saturday in Utah in the final round of the regular season.
Head coach Darren Coleman is excited that the Major League Rugby season has reached crunch time with the winner advancing to the August 1 Championship final.
“There’s plenty of positive energy in the team we’ve picked and always that extra buzz and intensity to a week like this,” Coleman said.
“The senior players have been pushing their peers harder for weeks now, there’s more talk and less tolerance for imperfections. It’s driving good standards.
“Dave and Adam Ashley-Cooper have a big input tactically. A guy like ’Gits’ is a true professional and he’s got clarity around the game plan he’ll run.
“It’s terrific for everyone at the Giltinis to be playing at home at the Coliseum. We love playing there.
“We know we have to improve around the set piece against Utah plus our maul and pick-and-drive defence. They are a good opponent and it's a strong sign of the standard that MLR has reached.”
Matches between the two clubs have been split this season. The Warriors won a week ago while The Giltinis ran in five tries when winning 38-27 at SoFi Stadium on May 15
The Warriors have attacking flair of their own. USA Eagles fullback Mikey Te’o led the stats for both sides with 12 runs for 125m last weekend when his try from the ruckbase near full-time was the most important single metre of the game.
LA GILTINIS (v Utah Warriors)
1 JP Smith, 2 Mahe Vailanu, 3 Marco Fepulea’i, 4 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Luke White, 6 Nathan Den Hoedt, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Corey Thomas, 9 Harrison Goddard, 10 Matt Giteau, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 12 Billy Meakes, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 John Ryberg, 15 Luke Burton
Replacements: 16 Sean McNulty, 17 Blake Rogers, 18 Charlie Abel, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Pago Haini, 21 Luke Carty, 22 Ryan James, 23 Seru Vularika
IN: JP Smith, Marco Fepulea’i, Dave Dennis, Corey Thomas, Harrison Goddard, Matt Giteau, DTH van der Merwe, Billy Meakes, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Sean McNulty
OUT: Sione Tuihalamaka, Ma’ake Muti, Glenn Bryce, Adam Channel, Cristian Rodriguez, Gelen Robinson, Langilangi Haupeakui, Ben Weischedel, Cyrille Cama, Dylan James
Tickets start at $10 + service fees.
The match will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network in the USA and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.