The LA Giltinis face one of the most significant matches in their formative history when fans are welcomed back for Saturday’s clash against the San Diego Legion.
Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman stressed the importance of the match on multiple levels when it kicks off at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from 6pm (PT).
“There’s real excitement amongst our players. That feeling you get from the crowd is one of the reasons you play rugby. It lifts you,” Coleman said.
“We want to perform for our supporters but there’s another side too because this is the first time our players get to play in front of their own families and friends.
“It’s a big day for the club in lots of ways.
“We see San Diego as a very ambitious club with a playing roster of high quality and potential as a finals team.
“We want this to be the start of a ‘California Derby’ in Major League Rugby. A tradition starts on Saturday and we want to set the tone from the beginning.
“Getting that big brother relationship going from winning the first time would definitely be a good thing.”
Coleman has made five changes to the line-up that last weekend beat the spirited Houston SaberCats 48-33 to reach an unbeaten 4-0 slate atop the MLR standings.
Flyhalf Matt Giteau (knee) and No.8 Pago Haini (quadricep) are out with injuries.
Irishman Luke Carty’s 40 minutes as starting flyhalf against the SaberCats has him well prepared to be in the steering seat again against the Legion (2-3).
Regular starter Adam Ashe shuffles from the bench into the No.8 jersey for Haini.
JP Smith’s return from knee trouble to start at prop is a plus for the scrum while versatile Fijian recruit Seru Vularika is on the bench for the first time.
Vularika, who played the most recent of his 12 Tests just last December, will be back-up at inside centre.
“We are hopeful ‘Gits’ is only out for this week but we have good coverage at No.10 with Luke Carty and Luke Burton,” Coleman said.
“We have had a few injuries to our props in recent weeks so getting JP back stiffens the scrum.”
The Giltinis have been playing the most crowd-pleasing rugby in MLR with 29 tries in just four games but the Legion are running No.2 on the try-scoring list (19) for firepower.
Skilful South African Sevens legend Cecil Afrika, at fullback, former Springboks winger Bjorn Basson and Australia’s former NSW Waratah Cam Clark, at centre, are top-class backs who will need to be contained.
In the Legion’s excellent 31-29 win over Utah last weekend, the trio combined in a stunning 85m try on counter-attack. The dreadlocked Afrika ignited the try with a dash and spin move to shed defenders before Basson and try-scorer Clark finished it off.
“It was a breakout game for Afrika in MLR. We know how dangerous he is and the key is to limit how he gets the ball…no loose kicking and stopping his front-foot ball by the work we do as a pack,” Coleman said.
“This will be one of the hardest matches we face.”
Burton gave a taste of what the players are feeling: “The surface at the Coliseum is super-fast for good rugby and to play in front of fans there for the first time is going to be awesome.”
The match is the first chance for San Diego fans to see their Legion live in California this season so the fan support in the grandstands will not be one-way.
LA GILTINIS (v San Diego Legion)
1 JP Smith, 2 Mahe Vailanu, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Nathan Den Hoedt, 6 Angus Cottrell, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Adam Ashe, 9 Harrison Goddard, 10 Luke Carty, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 12 Luke Burton, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 John Ryberg, 15 Glenn Bryce
Replacements: 16 Blake Rogers, 17 Sean McNulty, 18 Frikkie de Beer, 19 Corey Thomas, 20 Langilangi Haupeakui, 21 Cristian Rodriguez, 22 Seru Vularika, 23 Ryan James
IN: John Ryberg, JP Smith, Seru Vularika, Sean McNulty, Langilangi Haupeakui
OUT: Matt Giteau, Pago Haini, Lindsey Stevens, Ma’ake Muti, Watson Filikitonga
* Tickets are on sale for Saturday’s 6pm (PT) clash against the San Diego Legion when fans are welcome for the first time to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Visit www.giltinis.com/tickets
The match will be broadcast live on CBSSN Nationally and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.