A first visit to his new home at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has magnified what captaining the LA Giltinis means to Dave Dennis.
The former Wallabies forward has been unveiled as the first Giltinis skipper in what will be a week of firsts for the newest Major League Rugby club in the USA.
Head coach Darren Coleman called his Australian lock “a natural choice” for the honor of guiding the club’s cast of international and local stars against the New England Free Jacks at the Coliseum on Saturday (3.30pm PT).
The club’s first training session at the iconic stadium on Tuesday left a major mark on Dennis, 35, who has played all over the world for 14 years.
“It’s going to be a hell of a place to play fast rugby because I’ve got to say it’s one of the best surfaces I’ve ever trained or played on,” Dennis said.
“You just feel the history of the stadium around you. It blows your mind the number of athletes from the Olympics to the NFL to baseball who have played here.
“It’s such a huge stadium but it feels quite intimate when you are out in the middle of the field.”
It is strong commendation from Dennis who has played at some of rugby’s greatest cathedrals from Twickenham to Stade de France and from Millennium Stadium to Sydney’s Olympic Stadium in his home city.
Learning from LA Memorial Coliseum General Manager Joe Furin that college rugby was played on the turf here in the 1930s and ‘40s also resonated.
“The players and myself as captain feel a lot of pride in how our new team is going to represent Los Angeles with winning rugby,” Dennis said.
“The boys have had to dodge a few obstacles over the past 12 months even just to get into the US, in some cases, because of the pandemic.
“Adapting and getting on with it reflects well on the group of players we have.
“From the start of an idea to have a MLR team in LA to reaching kick-off in the first game has been quite a journey.”
Dennis said the 43-38 trial win over the Austin Gilgronis last weekend was much needed and identified all the work-ons for the team.
“There were some good signs and good fight from our bench in the second half to get the win but we know our intensity has to lift for Saturday and the quality of our execution,” Dennis said.
Being captain didn’t spare Dennis when the side door flew open on the team bus on Highway 101N on the drive to the team’s base at Oxnard from LAX after the Austin game.
Eight bags were scattered across the freeway, including the bag of team manager Kevin Battle which was run over.
“Like I said, you have to be adaptable. My bag dropped on the freeway at 70 miles per hour and there was no damage,” Dennis said.
Coleman said having a proven leader at the helm of a new team drawn from eight countries is a big factor.
“Dave is a natural choice for me. He was a terrific leader of the NSW Waratahs in their championship season (2014) in Australia and he’s been around winning programs in that role at Sydney University and Exeter Chiefs as well,” Coleman said.
“The players and coaches had input with a vote too.”
Dennis played 18 Tests for Australia and will drive the forwards to the peak needed to make a mark in the Giltinis’ first season.
“Dave demands high standards which is exactly what we want and he’ll set the example too with his strong ball carries and detail for the pack,” Coleman said.
Coleman gave an insight into the hard work, emotion and sacrifice that players and staff have put into launching LA’s first MLR club.
Beating the Gilgronis on the bell in last weekend’s trial was the first reward.
“I was just so pleased we got that score in the final minute so the players got a glimpse of what they’d signed up for with the singing in the locker room and the team environment everyone has worked so hard to build,” Coleman said.
The Giltinis will play in their first ever MLR match this Saturday at their home ground, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The match will be broadcast live at 3:30pm PT on Fox Sports West / Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.