Versatile Harrison Goddard (above) has been named at flyhalf by the LA Giltinis for Sunday’s Gilly’s Cup blockbuster against the Austin Gilgronis at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The two clubs setting the pace in Major League Rugby’s Western Conference will meet at 3pm (PST) with pride, brotherly bragging rights and momentum for the finals on the line.
The 8-3 Giltinis are riding the confidence of a six-match winning streak but are acutely aware of the 22-9 stumble to the 10-2 Gilgronis in Texas in Round Five.
Head coach Stephen Hoiles was rewarded with a 31-19 win for his late call to switch one of MLR’s best scrumhalves to flyhalf last weekend against Rugby ATL.
“Harrison handled the change really well. His game control, kicking, running and talking game were just what we wanted and he’ll start there again against Austin on Sunday,” Hoiles said.
“To have that flexibility so we have a calm head at No.10 is invaluable with some of the issues we’ve had in the position.”
To have such quality in a fifth-choice No.10 is remarkable with internationals Matt Giteau and Luke Carty both injured, able 42-year-old fill-in Orene Ai’i suspended and bench back Luke Burton being used as backline cover for three positions.
The Giltinis have made only one change to the starting XV for Sunday. Canadian international Corey Thomas comes in at No.8 for Hanco Germishuys, who must serve a three-game suspension for striking in the Rugby ATL match.
Onto the reserves bench comes heavy-hitting backrower Langilangi Haupeakui (below), who is returning after a long lay-off to repair a knee injury.
The former USA Eagle will bring experience, size and hunger to his first outing of 2022.
“There have been some lonely days for Langi in rehab at times. He’s a really good team man. He’ll be excited for this return as are we,” Hoiles said.
“He certainly doesn’t tackle any softer because of the time away.”
Hoiles said the Giltinis had made a thorough review of their loss to Austin as part of Sunday’s preparation.
“We lead 9-0 in that game, were slow to start the second half, conceded 16 points in 14 minutes and made eight unforced errors in a row with kicks not finding touch and lineout mistakes,” Hoiles said.
“You can’t give any team that easy territory and momentum.
“We have to be far more clinical against Austin this time and we are working on things so we are faster out of the blocks after half-time.
“I tell the guys that a lot of players don’t get to play in successful sides with trophies on the line.
“We have a good rivalry and a pretty intense one with Austin. It would be really nice for us to be the ones filling the Gilly’s Cup and taking a drink on Sunday.”
LA GILTINIS (v Austin Gilgronis)
1 Andrew Tuala, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 3 Marco Fepulea’i, 4 Luke White, 5 Dave Dennis (capt), 6 Nathan Den Hoedt, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Corey Thomas, 9 Tas Smith, 10 Harrison Goddard, 11 Tom Mitchell, 12 Billy Meakes, 13 Ben LeSage, 14 John Ryberg, 15 Jordan Trainor
Replacements: 16 Lindsey Stevens, 17 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 18 Charlie Abel, 19 Langilangi Haupeakui, 20 Cyrille Cama, 21 Luke Burton, 22 Cristian Rodriguez, 23 Will Chambers
IN: Langilangi Haupeakui
OUT: Hanco Germishuys
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)
(v Rugby ATL)
Ball carries: Billy Meakes 7, Dave Dennis 7
Running Metres Gained: Dave Dennis 57, Billy Meakes 46, Tom Mitchell 42, Harrison Goddard 40
Defenders Beaten: Dave Dennis 3
Tackles: Christian Poidevin 20, Billy Meakes 16, Tom Mitchell 15, Ben LeSage 15, Nathan Den Hoedt 15
Ruck and Maul Arrivals: Billy Meakes 23, Christian Poidevin 17, Nathan Den Hoedt 15, Luke White 12, Andrew Tuala 11
Season Try-scoring: Hanco Germishuys 7, John Ryberg 3, Jordan Trainor 3
The Giltinis face the Austin Gilgronis at 3pm (PST) on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 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.