Former USA Eagle Langilangi Haupeakui has been selected to make his long-awaited comeback in a revised LA Giltinis side for Sunday’s second home game.
Flanker Haupeakui has been included on the bench as one of six team changes for the clash against the Seattle Seawolves at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from 5.30pm PT.
His hitting power as a tackler and his forceful running established his reputation when he was selected three times by the Eagles in 2016 because he throws every bit of his 255lb (116kg) frame into contact.
This will be a first taste of Major League Rugby for Haupeakui, 31, whose most recent amateur rugby was early in 2020 with the Life West Gladiators in the San Francisco Bay area.
Sunday’s match will be a huge test for the Giltinis against the two-time MLR champions (2018-19) with their size in the pack and strike weapons like English centre Ross Neal in the backs.
For the challenge, head coach Darren Coleman has made just two changes to the starting side which set the tone of last weekend’s 42-27 launch against the New England Free Jacks.
The experienced Luke White, an influential figure for the Colorado (Glendale) Raptors for three MLR seasons (2018-20), comes in at lock for Nathan Den Hoedt. The youngster Ryan James comes in to replace DTH van der Merwe on the wing.
Chances to impress have been created in the reserves as MLR’s newest club keeps examining its varied strengths and weapons.
Prop Marco Fepulea’i completed quarantine this week after his arrival from New Zealand and will replace South African Frikkie de Beer on the bench.
The Giltinis have three high-quality hookers and Lindsey Stevens will be back-up hooker this week instead of Sean McNulty.
Luke Burton, an inside centre-fullback option, replaces winger Ryan James as a backline reserve.
“The inclusion of Luke White, Langilangi and Marco does lift our experience in the forwards for a significant challenge against a big, physical side like Seattle,” Coleman said.
“Luke is a physical lump and we want to see plenty of that in his hitting, his cleaning out, his ball-carrying and general play.
“It’s great to see Langilangi get past a little groin flare-up. He’s trained well this week and he brings that power running and hitting element to our options.
“He has big boots to fill because he replaces Pago (Haini) who was dynamic off the bench for us against the Free Jacks.
“Marco is definitely a prop of quality. He played a trial with the Blues for Super Rugby before flying in so he’s arrived from Auckland in good shape.”
The Seawolves will be formidable opponents despite tripping 30-24 to the Houston SaberCats in their opener last weekend.
The Seawolves this week announced the return to the club of experienced Eagles backrower Samu Manoa.
“We expect a more direct, very physical opponent in the Seawolves. You can fight fire with fire or fight fire with something else,” Coleman said.
“No doubt, we have to be committed to those big contacts that are coming but we play fast and we’ll see if they can go with us.
“We’ve spoken about respecting what the Seawolves have achieved in MLR because that history of winning championships is going to demand even more of a performance from us.”
The 6’3” (1.91m) White is ready to meet the Seawolves front-on. As a Raptor in 2019, no player in MLR made more ball carries (180) in the regular season and no forward pounded out more ground (1159m) in that role.
Haupeakui is a native of San Mateo, California and the Giltinis starting up just down the freeway was a huge lure to get involved.
LA GILTINIS (V SEATTLE SEAWOLVES)
1 JP Smith, 2 Mahe Vailanu, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Luke White, 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 Ryan James, 15 Glenn Bryce
Replacements: 16 Lindsey Stevens, 17 Blake Rogers, 18 Marco Fepulea’i, 19 Corey Thomas, 20 Langilangi Haupeakui, 21 Cristian Rodriguez, 22 Luke Carty, 23 Luke Burton
IN: Luke White, Ryan James, Lindsey Stevens, Marco Fepulea’i, Langilangi Haupeakui, Luke Burton
OUT: Nathan Den Hoedt, DTH van der Merwe, Sean McNulty, Frikkie de Beer, Pago Haini
The Giltinis are back to play their second MLR match against Seattle Seawolves on Sunday, March 28 at their home ground, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The match will be broadcast live at 5:30pm PT on Fox Sports West / Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.