The return of skipper Dave Dennis (above) and USA Eagles backrower Hanco Germishuys are timely boosts for the LA Giltinis’ danger game in Utah on Saturday.
The duo add edge and expertise to the pack for what is expected to be an intense physical contest against Utah Warriors at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman at 1.30pm (PST).
Lock Dennis will be refreshed after a two-week lay-off just as flanker Germishuys will be itching to make his mark after being a frustrated spectator during a three-game suspension.
The 4-10 Warriors are out of play-off contention but their big-game mettle in Major League Rugby is proven.
The Giltinis were upset 28-19 when the Warriors visited the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in March and the Utah line-up sprung as big a surprise last weekend.
Toppling the Austin Gilgronis 22-8 at Zions Bank Stadium with a brutal mix of defensive steel and willpower dumped the leaders from the top of the standings.
The 10-4 Giltinis (49 points) now sit atop the Western Conference ladder ahead of the 10-4 Gilgronis (48) and 9-5 Houston SaberCats (46) with two rounds of the regular season to play.
“Holding onto top spot and the home ground advantage it brings to certain play-off games is really important but Utah will not make that easy,” Giltinis head coach Stephen Hoiles.
“We saw the result when we were wasteful with territory and possession in our match earlier in the season so we do have to be clinical on Saturday.
“We produced some really positive play in the second half against Dallas last weekend. That’s the type of switched-on performance we need against Utah.
“It’s a big positive to have Dave and Hanco back.”
Dennis will join Nathan Den Hoedt (below), a standout for workrate against Dallas, in the lock spots. Regular Luke White is out with an ankle injury.
Germishuys is the side’s top tryscorer (seven) with the rumbling authority to his ball-carries and support play. He will be at flanker instead of Zach Bonte, who will play off the bench.
In the front-row, Charlie Abel will start at prop in a match with a real significance. Brother Robbie is coaching the Warriors forwards and shared credit in the team restricting the Gilgronis to just a single try.
In the backline, Luke Carty’s positive comeback cameo against Dallas has earned him the starting role at flyhalf.
His first minutes for more than four months, because of a pectoral muscle tear, included signs of the smart passing and precise boot which make the USA Eagle such an asset.
Harrison Goddard (below) reverts to his favourite position at scrumhalf.
The late loss of power-running winger John Ryberg (groin) means an opportunity for elusive finisher Ryan James (just back from a hamstring strain after time in the USA Sevens program) onto the bench, with Will Chambers being elevated into the starting team
Billy Meakes and Ben LeSage have been reunited as one of MLR’s best centre pairings while utility Cristian Rodriguez wins a start on the wing.
“Cristian is always working at training and has done well with his limited opportunities this season. This is good reward,” Hoiles said.
Dynamic attacker Tom Mitchell remains at fullback with Jordan Trainor still dealing with a toe niggle.
LA GILTINIS (v Utah Warriors)
1 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 2 Lindsey Stevens, 3 Charlie Abel, 4 Dave Dennis (capt), 5 Nathan Den Hoedt, 6 Hanco Germishuys, 7 Christian Poidevin, 8 Langilangi Haupeakui, 9 Harrison Goddard, 10 Luke Carty, 11 Cristian Rodriguez, 12 Billy Meakes, 13 Ben LeSage, 14 Will Chambers, 15 Tom Mitchell
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Marco Fepulea’i, 19 Cyrille Cama, 20 Zach Bonte, 21 Tas Smith, 22 Ryan James, 23 Luke Burton
IN: Dave Dennis, Hanco Germishuys, Ryan James
OUT: Sam Peri, Luke White, John Ryberg
(v Dallas Jackals)
Ball carries: Luke White 18, John Ryberg 13, Tom Mitchell 10
Running Metres Gained: John Ryberg 172, Tom Mitchell 142, Billy Meakes 109, Luke White 87
Offloads: Nathan Den Hoedt 3
Tackles: Langilangi Haupeakui 11, Nathan Den Hoedt 10, Christian Poidevin 9, Zach Bonte 9
Ruck and Maul Arrivals: Nathan Den Hoedt 23, Christian Poidevin 21, Lindsey Stevens 21, Zach Bonte 17, Luke White 16
Season Try-scoring: Hanco Germishuys 7, Ben LeSage 4, John Ryberg 4, Will Chambers 3, Andrew Tuala 3, Harrison Goddard 3
Joe Taufete’e - Hooker (calf)
Angus Cottrell – Backrower (knee)
Matt Giteau – Flyhalf (calf)
Adam Ashe – Backrower (neck)
DTH van der Merwe – Winger (knee)
Brooklyn Hardaker – Winger (knee)
Jordan Trainor – Fullback (toe)
Luke White – Lock (ankle)
Corey Thomas – Backrower (knee)
John Ryberg – Winger (groin)
The Giltinis face the Utah Warriors at 1.30pm (PST) on Saturday at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. 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.