Three-time Rugby World Cup star Matt Giteau has been named as key playmaker in the powerful LA Giltinis’ team for Saturday’s long-awaited launch.
Giteau’s cool control from five-eighth will be vital on a day of high emotion when the Giltinis play their inaugural match against the New England Free Jacks at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (3:30pm PT).
All three were involved in Van der Merwe’s excellent try against the Austin Gilgronis in last weekend’s trial which is hopefully an exciting pointer of the running rugby to come from the Giltinis.
“We have worked on a mentality of being ruthless and well-structured in the forwards to supply good ball to what looks like an all-star backline,” Giltinis head coach Darren Coleman said.
“Naming the first team is a big moment in the club’s history because every player and staff member knows the hurdles, twists and roundabouts we’ve conquered as a club to get to our first game.
“Everyone is super-excited. Now we get to play the first-ever MLR game in Los Angeles.
“Matt Giteau is a high-level pro. Discuss something once and he implements it so he’s a very important part of the direction of the team.”
Experienced South African-born prop JP Smith is a significant inclusion in the starting side now he has recovered from a gashed knee sustained in training last week.
Smith played more than 60 Super Rugby games for the Queensland Reds, ACT Brumbies and Stormers.
Quickly finding consistency and combinations in a new team is essential like uniting Adam Ashe, Angus Cottrell and 22-year-old young gun Christian Poidevin in the backrow.
In the backline, Ashley-Cooper’s vast experience as a four-time RWC player for the Wallabies is already rubbing off on power-running Houston-born winger John Ryberg.
Outside centre Ashley-Cooper has passed on tips in defence to build Ryberg’s game beside him.
Ashley-Cooper and Billy Meakes, with experience in Super Rugby and the English Premiership, will be a strong centre pairing of authority.
Coleman said there were many tough selection calls when settling on the 23-man match squad under captain Dave Dennis.
“We’ve largely stuck to the starting side which played the trial against the Austin Gilgronis last weekend to give us some consistency,” Coleman said.
“We know the Free Jacks will be a tough opponent first-up. They are led by Canadian Test lock Josh Larsen and have a number of players with a strong grounding in New Zealand rugby.”
The eight-man Giltinis bench consists of players all USA or Canada eligible, including Irishman Luke Carty, who will likely replace Giteau late in the game.
“We have three really good hookers so it’s highly competitive there. Lindsey Stevens is desperately unlucky to miss the 23 with Mahe Vailanu and (replacement) Sean McNulty picked for Saturday,” Coleman said.
“Luke White is another unlucky to miss. With a few issues at prop, he moved from lock into his second position to help out the team in Austin.
“He’s a big part of the fabric of our team so his opportunity will come.
“It’s good to see chances being taken. Pago Haini was the last backrower we signed yet through very good internal trial form he’s won a spot on the bench.”
Making his debut off the bench will be a proud moment for Cristian Rodriguez, who grew up and still lives in Hawaiian Gardens in LA County.
The quick-stepper has been picked to cover halfback.
LA GILTINIS (V NEW ENGLAND FREE JACKS)
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 Matt Giteau, 11 John Ryberg, 12 Bill Meakes, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 15 Glenn Bryce
Replacements: 16 Sean McNulty, 17 Blake Rogers, 18 Frikkie de Beer, 19 Corey Thomas, 20 Pago Haini, 21 Cristian Rodriguez, 22 Luke Carty, 23 Ryan James
The Giltinis will play in their first ever MLR match on Saturday at their home ground, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The match will be broadcast live at 3:30pm PT on Fox Sports West / Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.