Team Announcement: LeSage and Channel Back and Mitchell Debuts Against Dallas

6 months ago

Former England sevens star Tom Mitchell will make his long-awaited debut for the LA Giltinis on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after winning his eight-month battle with a hamstring injury.

The versatile Mitchell has been selected on the bench to cover fullback and other backline positions against the Dallas Jackals in the 2pm (PST) clash.

Long hours of rehabilitation strengthened his leg after surgery to repair the ruptured hamstring tendon he first damaged in Tokyo during his second Olympic campaign with the Great Britain sevens team.

"I'm super excited to get back on the field this weekend. It's been a long road, a difficult recovery, but the chance to get out and have my first game as a Giltini is really giving me a good buzz," Mitchell said.

"I've enjoyed this lead-up week and I'm really looking forward to just finding my way back into 15s. It's a special place to have a debut at the Coliseum. After what has felt like a very long journey, it's going to be really special."

"I've learnt a lot since arriving in LA. In some ways, it has been useful to observe but there's no substitute for being out there in the action at training and now in games."

Mitchell so devoted his rugby life to sevens that this will be the 32-year-old's first 15-a-side game since the 2011 Varsity match in England when he scored a try for Oxford University in a win over Cambridge.

The 4-3 Giltinis have made five changes to their match-day squad as they chase their third win in a row against Major League Rugby’s newest club, the 0-7 Jackals. In the centres, Canadian international Ben LeSage makes a timely return now a broken hand has healed. He replaces top back Billy Meakes who is mending quadricep and groin niggles.

A head knock at training this week has ruled out in-form No.8 Hanco Germishuys. His absence creates the opening for Belmont Shore Rugby Club's Zach Bonte to start for the first time after a series of backrow cameos off the bench.

Tas Smith earns a start at scrumhalf because of strong form that also enables the club to manage the workload of leading MLR performer Harrison Goddard.

The rotation of the club’s quality props continues with Charlie Abel and Andrew Tuala elevated from the bench to the starting side. Les Leuluaialii-Makin is also fresh strength as back-up.

On the bench, Belmont Shore’s Adam Channel will make an exciting return for his first Giltinis outing of the year. He carried his excellent late season form of 2021 into the USA Eagles sevens program. He made his USA debut in the Vancouver tournament last September.

Head coach Steve Hoiles has also selected 6’6” (1.98m) lock Sam Peri for a likely MLR debut from the bench which recognises another local Santa Monica Rugby Club product.

Hoiles said Mitchell's lengthy recovery had produced a benefit in him becoming more attuned to the 15-a-side game.

"While he hasn't played in our first seven games, Tom is a real student of the game and he's been closely watching training and how we operate," Hoiles said.

"It's awesome for Tom that his return date has finally arrived. I'm excited about his wide range of skills, whether it's his balanced running in attack, his passing, his very capable kicking, his good ruck work or the experience he brings.

"We know he'll handle the jump back into the 15-a-side game because he is well-rounded footballer. He was one of the standouts in the World Rugby Sevens Series for years.

"The plan is for Tom to cover fullback but other positions as well."

Hoiles said the promotion of Peri to the bench for the first time was reward for the lock's drive and hard work.

"He'll throw all his commitment, energy and fitness at this opportunity that he's worked hard for during four months of pre-season and early season training. It's another chance for a local product of LA rugby," Hoiles said.

"At scrumhalf, we're managing Goddard's workload but also giving Tas Smith more of an opportunity because he's been going well."

LA GILTINIS (v Dallas Jackals)

1 Andrew Tuala, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Luke White, 5 Dave Dennis (capt), 6 Nathan Den Hoedt, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Zach Bonte, 9 Tas Smith, 10 Orene Ai’i, 11 Ryan James, 12 Luke Burton, 13 Ben LeSage, 14 John Ryberg, 15 Jordan Trainor

Replacements: 16 Lindsey Stevens, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Sam Peri, 20 Cyrille Cama, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Tom Mitchell, 23 Adam Channel

IN: Les Leuluaialii-Makin, Ben LeSage, Sam Peri, Tom Mitchell, Adam Channel

OUT: Billy Meakes, Marco Fepulea’i, Hanco Germishuys, Cristian Rodriguez, Will Chambers

The Giltinis face the Dallas Jackals at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 2pm (PST) on Sunday. The match will be broadcast live on Bally Sports SoCal and Bally Sports West in Los Angeles. The match can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.

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