The LA Giltinis have put their faith in USA Eagle Joe Taufete’e with his immediate call-up for Sunday’s clash against the Utah Warriors at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Taufete’e will play off the bench at hooker with Sean McNulty (head knock) unfit and Lindsey Stevens only just returning to play with the Giltinis Academy after major knee surgery.
The Eagles star met many of his new teammates for the first time at training on Friday after flying in this week with a release from French club Lyon.
The powerfully-framed 267-pound (121kg) hooker will add huge impact off the bench with his set piece skills and his reputation for skittling defenders as a ball-runner.
With 36 Tests behind him, Taufete’e, 29, will also add an extra layer of experience against the physical Warriors pack in the 4pm (PST) clash.
Head coach Stephen Hoiles has shown faith in Orene Ai’i (below) at No.10 with the 42-year-old skills coach-turned-comeback man getting the chance to control his first game at the Coliseum.
A positive COVID test has unfortunately ruled out scrumhalf Harrison Goddard which means young Tas Smith will step up for his first starting assignment at No.9 in Major League Rugby.
In changes to the pack, Charlie Abel wins promotion to starting prop and Scottish No.8 Adam Ashe returns after a game off with a head gash.
“Orene did an excellent job coming in late against Austin when Luke Burton went down with a staph infection,” Hoiles said.
“He’s even sat in on the players’ meeting this week and we’ve lightened some coaching responsibilities. He’s a competitor and keen to play.
“We know Joe’s quality. He’ll be straight into it.”
Hoiles is expecting a tough clash against a 1-3 Warriors side fresh from a 69-22 thrashing of the Dallas Jackals last weekend.
“Teams always get confidence from winning form and we know how dangerous the Warriors can be after they pushed us all the way in the Western Conference final (17-13) at the Coliseum last July,” Hoiles said.
“The Warriors have a lot of points in them and a physical pack.
“We understand the improvements we must make. We played a good first 40 minutes against Austin but that’s nowhere near enough.”
Sunday’s spectacle will be embellished with a series of women’s rugby sevens matches between the USA and the top-ranked Australian side.
Former World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year Charlotte Caslick heads the visiting Aussie line-up which has swept three of the four tournaments on the current HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.
The gates at the Coliseum open at 2pm on Sunday with USA A v Australia A as the opener.
USA v Australia will play before the 4pm MLR kick-off. The A teams will clash at half-time while the USA and Australia will go head-to-head again after full-time.
LA GILTINIS (v Utah Warriors)
1 Luke White, 2 Andrew Tuala, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Dave Dennis (capt), 5 Nathan Den Hoedt, 6 Angus Cottrell, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Adam Ashe, 9 Tas Smith, 10 Orene Ai’i, 11 Ryan James, 12 Billy Meakes, 13 Will Chambers, 14 Cristian Rodriguez, 15 Jordan Trainor
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Marco Fepulea’i, 19 Corey Thomas, 20 Hanco Germishuys, 21 Zach Bonte, 22 Kahanu Koi, 23 D’Montae Noble
IN: Joe Taufete’e, Adam Ashe, Djustice Sears-Duru, D’Montae Noble
OUT: Sean McNulty, Cyrille Cama, Harrison Goddard, Les Leuluaialii-Makin
The Giltinis face the Utah Warriors at the Coliseum at 4pm (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.