Hard-hitting and hard-working flanker Angus Cottrell (above) has been reinstated to the LA Giltinis’ starting line-up for Sunday’s Championship showdown at the Coliseum.
Head coach Darren Coleman today delivered the expected news when finalising the team that will chase the Giltinis’ first Major League Rugby title.
The experienced Cottrell’s return as a physical factor is immense to help set the tone against Rugby ATL’s formidable pack.
The Australian has been missing for three games while serving a suspension so will hit the Championship final fresh, hungry and with plenty to prove.
His importance to the Giltinis goes beyond simple stats. Even missing three games, he is the team’s third-ranked ball-carrier (105), top line-breaking forward (9), a top-five tackler (107), steals more ball at the breakdown (5) than any other forward and is one of the team’s ruck warriors (275 ruck arrivals).
“Getting Angus back is big for us. He’s always that hard-working, physical player in tight but a bit of hybrid with the skills and speed he shows elsewhere,” Coleman said.
“What we didn’t expect was Cottrell, the try-scorer, because he tops our list (11).”
With a reshuffle to the pack, the loss of prop JP Smith (calf) is the only change to the match-day 23 that won the Western Conference thriller over Utah Warriors.
Front-row rock Charlie Abel (below) will start at loosehead prop with versatile Luke White providing lock-prop cover from the bench.
A measure of the strength on the bench to finish the final strongly is the presence of two Test backs in Luke Carty (USA) Eagles) and Seru Vularika (Fiji).
Key flyhalf Matt Giteau will start after passing fitness tests this week after being forced off by a heavy tackle last weekend.
His partnership with in-form scrumhalf Harrison Goddard (pictured below) is a potential area that can separate the Giltinis from Rugby ATL.
“Harrison has been outstanding for us. When ‘Gits’ went off against Utah we all saw how he stepped up and created the winning try for Ryan James,” Coleman said.
Coleman saw a bigger picture too with the Giltinis making the Championship final in their first year and staging the climax in world-class surroundings at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“It puts a line in the sand around the way things can be done in MLR,” Coleman said.
“I think we are seen around the league as a club setting benchmarks.
“That’s great for the growth of MLR here in the US because we’ve ended up with a Championship final between two quality teams in a quality setting.”
High-impact centre Billy Meakes said the Coliseum added a strength all of its own behind the Giltinis.
“We are playing in front of our home fans. A lot have been there through thick and thin in these times,” Meakes said.
“We want to bring a trophy to LA.”
LA GILTINIS (v Rugby ATL)
1 Charlie Abel, 2 Mahe Vailanu, 3 Marco Fepulea’i, 4 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Nathan Den Hoedt, 6 Angus Cottrell, 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 Luke White, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Pago Haini, 21 Seru Vularika, 22 Luke Carty, 23 Ryan James
IN: Angus Cottrell
OUT: JP Smith
TALE OF THE TAPE LA GILTINIS
Record: 12-4 (regular season)
W Utah Warriors 17-13 (WC final)
Home Games: 8-1
Leaders: Angus Cottrell 11, DTH Van Merwe 10, Harrison Goddard 9
Top Pointscorer: Matt Giteau 83
Ball Carries: Adam Ashe 112, Dave Dennis 110, Angus Cottrell 105
Run Metres: DTH van der Merwe 1055, Billy Meakes 870
Linebreaks: DTH van der Merwe 16
Tackle busts: DTH van der Merwe 42
Tackles: Nathan Den Hoedt 138
Linebreaks conceded: 48
Penalties conceded: 198
Own scrum won: 87%
Own lineout won: 84%
Head-to-head: L Rugby ATL 17-12 (A), May 29
Record: 11-5 (regular season)
W Rugby United New York 10-9 (EC final)
Away Games: 4-4
Leader: Marko Janse van Rensburg 8
Top Pointscorer: Adriaan Carelse 63
Ball Carries: Bautista Ezcurra 141, Jason Damm 141
Run Metres: Bautista Ezcurra 1022
Linebreaks: Mark O’Keeffe 14
Tackle busts: Bautista Ezcurra 54
Tackles: Johan Momsen 185
Linebreaks conceded: 78
Penalties conceded: 200
Own scrum won: 94%
Own lineout won: 83%
Head-to-head: W v LA Giltinis 17-12 (H), May 29
Courtesy: Stats Perform
The LA Giltinis face Rugby ATL in Sunday’s Championship final from 1pm (PT) at the Coliseum.
The match will be broadcast live on CBS in USA and can be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.