Veteran Luke White (above) has been installed as LA Giltinis captain with regular skipper Dave Dennis forced to take a rare week off after failing his fitness test.
Lock White will lead the Giltinis against the dangerous San Diego Legion when the neighbouring clubs duel for the Cali Cup on Sunday night at 6.30pm (PST).
The symbol of rugby dominance in southern California is up for grabs at SDSU Sports Deck where the Giltinis will be out to extend their club record winning streak to eight games.
Lock Dennis had a mighty game in last weekend’s 10-8 victory over the Austin Gilgronis and has not be able to pass his fitness test late Friday afternoon, with Nathan Den Hoedt now to partner White in the lock spots on Sunday.
A last minute SOS to Belmont Shore Rugby Club’s Zach Bonte will see the backrow forward fill the vacancy created by Den Hoedt’s positional switch.
The Giltinis will also face the Legion without powerful USA Eagles hooker Joe Taufete’e, who is resting an ankle issue.
Versatile Andy Tuala shifts from prop to hooker to cover the loss. Les Leuluaialii-Makin and Charlie Abel have been promoted from the bench as a fresh prop pairing to continue the rotation of resources in these key positions.
In the backline, Will Chambers (below) will start on the wing in place of John Ryberg, who will be impact off the bench.
“It’s unfortunate to lose Dave with time almost up against Austin. His tackle accuracy was 15-from-15 and he was a big part of that win,” head coach Stephen Hoiles said.
“We are fortunate to have someone as experienced as Luke to take over the captaincy.
“It’s a good chance for guys to learn to be better without Dave’s influence on the field. It’s got to be part of the evolution of this team.”
The Giltinis started their seven-game winning run with the tight 26-13 success over the Legion in mid-March when the match was in the balance until prop Marco Fepulea’i plunged over for a try in the 71st minute.
The 6-7 Legion (33 points) have fallen to fifth in the competitive Western Conference and are focused on an upset to jump back into the top three ahead of the Seattle Seawolves (36).
“We know San Diego will be desperate to stay in the race on Sunday,” Hoiles warned.
“They have scorepower in them, a good lineout and they gave us one of the really tough, hard fights of our season when we played earlier in the year.
“And that was a game without Ma’a Nonu. He’s an All Black great, who has won Rugby World Cups, and he’s playing well for the Legion.”
Inside centre Nonu’s expertise puts the onus on Giltinis centres Billy Meakes and Ben LeSage to limit his chances with the high-quality defence that has been their hallmark.
Nonu (below) may be 39 but he is the best-credentialled player in Major League Rugby with two World Cup titles (2011 and 2015) to his name and 103 Test caps for the All Blacks.
LA GILTINIS (v San Diego Legion)
1 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Andrew Tuala, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Luke White (capt), 5 Nathan Den Hoedt, 6 Zach Bonte, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Corey Thomas, 9 Tas Smith, 10 Harrison Goddard, 11 Tom Mitchell, 12 Billy Meakes, 13 Ben LeSage, 14 Will Chambers, 15 Jordan Trainor
Replacements: 16 Lindsey Stevens, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Marco Fepulea’i, 19 Langilangi Haupeakui, 20 Cyrille Cama, 21 Luke Burton, 22 Cristian Rodriguez, 23 John Ryberg
IN: Zach Bonte, Djustice Sears-Duru
OUT: Joe Taufete’e, Dave Dennis
Joe Taufete’e - Hooker (ankle)
Dave Dennis – Lock (fitness test)
Angus Cottrell – Backrower (knee)
Luke Carty – Flyhalf (pectoral muscle)
Matt Giteau – Flyhalf (calf)
Adam Ashe – Backrower (neck)
DTH van der Merwe – Winger (knee)
Brooklyn Hardaker – Winger (knee)
The Giltinis face the San Diego Legion at 6.30pm (PST) on Sunday at the SDSU Sports Deck. The match will be broadcast live on FS1 in Los Angeles. The match can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.