The LA Giltinis have signed a livewire utility back and an off-field inspiration for the city’s youth by bringing Cristian Rodriguez back to Los Angeles.
Today’s announcement that he has agreed to a one-year deal springs from his free-agent status when the Dallas Jackals pulled out of the upcoming Major League Rugby season.
At 170lb (77kg) and 5’6” (1.68m), Rodriguez plays above his size at wing, fullback or halfback with a scintillating left-foot sidestep, speed and his opportunist attacking ways.
Rodriguez, 24, is delighted to be playing on home turf. He grew up and still lives in Hawaiian Gardens in LA County, less than an hour’s drive from the Giltinis’ base at El Segundo.
“In all major sports, LA has to have a team so to get this chance to play with the Giltinis, as they start as a new club, is very exciting,” Rodriguez said.
“(Head coach) Darren Coleman has big goals and we do too as players because we want to get after this competition straight away.”
Rodriguez played fullback for the USA Under-20s (2017) while at Lindenwood University which produced three Sevens National Championships, two Collegiate Rugby Championships and Men’s Collegiate All-American honours in both XVs and Sevens in his final year (2019).
All he has achieved sprang from the direction he found at 13 by joining the Alternatives To Gang Membership program run by mentor Ernie Vargas for at-risk youth.
More than that, the first in his family to go to college is using his degree in recreation, sport and tourism management to map a rugby life for others with coaching and mentorship.
“One of my main things in life is to take back to kids all I’ve learnt and continue the work of the ATGM program to create chances they may not otherwise get,” Rodriguez said.
“If they see what you can do with a chance, like me at university and at the Giltinis, it is something they can believe in. Like in coaching, I don’t tell kids what I can’t back up.
“My friends and I loved rugby at a young age and why not? You could be really aggressive with tackling and there was a lot of contact without padding. The skill came later.”
Rodriguez is excited to work within the Giltinis’ programs to nurture rugby and introduce new players to the game in youth development.
“Cristian is a real pocket rocket with speed, footwork and power over and above what his size dictates,” Coleman said.
“He’s an LA boy playing at Belmont Shore Rugby Club who has put a lot of time into at-risk youth rugby programs in his home city.”
Added skills coach Orene Ai’i: “He has a good understanding of the game and he’ll provide cover at wing, fullback and halfback which is great versatilty for us.”
The Giltinis make their exciting MLR debut at home against the New England Free Jacks on March 20.