The return of influential fullback Glenn Bryce (pictured above) is a huge plus for the LA Giltinis as they prepare to de-claw the Houston SaberCats on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Last weekend’s bye round arrived perfectly for the Scottish ace so he could advance his recovery from an ankle injury without missing any further matches.
No Bryce for three games showed just how much his strong-running instincts on attack and smart kicking had been an integral feature during the first half of the season.
His 12 ball-carries for 110m against the SaberCats in April was typical and the Giltinis would love plenty of that go-forward from Sunday’s kick-off (4pm PT).
The 8-2 Giltinis remain atop the Major League Rugby standings but are eager to regain momentum after the last-start 17-12 loss to Rugby ATL in Georgia.
“We’ve done some good training since returning from a break and the big focus for us is to front up physically on Sunday,” head coach Darren Coleman said.
“We can’t have opponents thinking that upsetting our ball at the source stops us playing footy. Being more consistent with our scrum and lineout as well as being more protective of our ruck ball is super important to get our house in order.
“Glenn is excited to play again and he always gives us that very good balance of run-kick-pass from the back.”
With backline ironman Adam Ashley-Cooper (knee) missing his first game through injury, Bryce and Co have to step up to cover his regular input.
Utility back Luke Burton switches from fullback to inside centre and shaven-headed Billy Meakes moves to outside centre to cover the loss of Ashley-Cooper.
Ryan James (above) will start on the wing in a rotation move that switches fellow USA Rugby training squad member John Ryberg to the bench.
In the pack, Corey Thomas comes in at lock for the suspended Luke White as the only change to the starters.
There is an exciting career launch on the bench with new recruit Gelen Robinson (below) selected as back-up hooker with Mahe Vailanu (thumb) and Lindsey Stevens (knee) both injured.
Rookie Robinson, who turned 26 this week, admits himself this is only the start of the journey in rugby after just 10 games with the Colorado XOs in Glendale.
The 6′ 1″ (1.85m), 267 pound (121kg) Robinson is powerful raw material from a football background after playing defensive tackle for the Dallas Renegades in the XFL last year.
“The Giltinis made me feel welcome straight off the plane. I’ve been learning at every practice this past week and I just want to keep progressing,” Robinson said.
Like reserve prop Ma’ake Muti, Robinson is a product of Glendale’s RugbyTown Crossover Academy which aims to coach up talented football, basketball and track athletes into potential professionals for USA Rugby.
“Gelen is exactly what the Giltinis came here to find in the US. He’s an athlete from a multi-sport background and it’s up to us to refine his skills so he becomes a very good rugby player,” Coleman said.
“The SaberCats gave us a good contest in Houston and they have some dangerous players. It’s exciting for us to be back playing at our home at the Coliseum to get our game right.”
LA GILTINIS (v Houston SaberCats)
1 JP Smith, 2 Sean McNulty, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Corey Thomas, 6 Angus Cottrell, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Adam Ashe, 9 Harrison Goddard, 10 Matt Giteau, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 12 Luke Burton, 13 Billy Meakes, 14 Ryan James, 15 Glenn Bryce
Replacements: 16 Gelen Robinson, 17 Blake Rogers, 18 Ma’ake Muti, 19 Nathan Den Hoedt, 20 Pago Haini, 21 Luke Carty, 22 Seru Vularika, 23 John Ryberg
IN: Glenn Bryce, Gelen Robinson, Seru Vularika, Nathan Den Hoedt, Ma’ake Muti
OUT: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Luke White, Langilangi Haupeakui, Frikkie de Beer, Lindsey Stevens
The Giltinis play Houston SaberCats on their return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. For tickets, visit www.giltinis.com/tickets/ The match will be broadcast live from 4pm (PT) on Bally Sports SoCal in Los Angeles and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.