The LA Giltinis have won Major League Rugby’s Championship final with a decisive 31-17 victory over Rugby ATL.
Joyous celebrations erupted at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon with a victory based on superior polish, teamwork and three classy tries.
Two minutes of Matt Giteau magic changed the final midway through the first half when he created a try double for John Ryberg.
It was a triumph that reflected everything the Giltinis have built in Los Angeles since starting life as a new MLR club last year during the middle of a global pandemic.
The Giltinis have set the pace in MLR all season and they did again on rugby’s biggest stage on the final day of a stellar season.
The emotion and meaning bubbled from the Giltinis’ players as they celebrated on the field with the MLR shield.
“This is as good a feeling as I’ve had on a rugby field. It’s a special group and I think we played our best at the end,” said Giteau, the Australian star with three World Cups in his career.
“The only way to grow the sport in LA is to win. We were told early on that LA likes winners.”
Centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (pictured below) agreed after an impressive final game to his own superb career at 37.
“I’m very proud to be a part of what this club has achieved by beating obstacles and adversity all along the way. It’s been an epic campaign," Ashley-Cooper said.
“To finish a career on my own terms, to go out a winner...there’s no better way to finish.
"This has been the most enjoyable 12 months of my career.”
Giteau produced a masterclass at flyhalf in what will be the final game of a decorated two decades at the top of rugby although he kept everyone guessing on the "R" word.
At the 20-minute mark, Giteau made a straightening run, found a defensive weak spot and fed a one-handed pass to winger Ryberg.
The powerful Texan timed his planned run in midfield perfectly and steamed to the tryline from 25m out.
Just two minutes later, Giteau dabbed a chip kick over the Rugby ATL defence that bounced perfectly into the hands of centre Ashley-Cooper.
It’s a play the former Wallabies teammates have pulled off countless times but the value in a Championship final was immense.
Ashley-Cooper's cool was vital because support wasn’t instantly in position. He ran, dummied inside and finally found Ryberg on the edge to finish the 70m play. For Ashley-Cooper, it was part of a superb performance in his own sign-off before retirement.
The Giltinis’ reserves bench swamped Ryberg (below) in the in-goal. The tries gave his team a 15-3 jump and a raucous home crowd a huge surge of energy.
Rugby ATL closed the gap to 15-10 five minutes from half-time when hooker Marko Janse van Rensburg plunged over from a mauling drive off a lineout.
A Giteau penalty goal pushed the score to 18-10 early in the second half before a pivotal moment.
From a winning lineout, Ryberg and standout prop Marco Fepulea’i crashed the ball forward. The ball was spun quickly to the left.
Ashley-Cooper picked up a pass off his bootlaces and flipped it on to fullback Luke Burton, who made the final pass to finisher DTH van der Merwe.
There were heroes across the field for the Giltinis.
Prop Fepulea’i had his left knee heavily strapped. He played through injury to give the Giltinis the sturdy scrum platform to nullify a strength of Rugby ATL.
Skipper Dave Dennis was a superb leader as he’s been all season. Burton was rock solid under the high ball and kicking from fullback.
Rugby ATL came with a clear plan to kick for territory to create pressure. Giteau, Burton and Harrison outkicked the visitors.
When heavy defence was needed, turnover tackles were unleashed and the momentum was regained.
The LA Giltinis... Your 2021 MLR champions.
LA GILTINIS 31
Tries: John Ryberg (20 min, 22), DTH van der Merwe (53)
Conversion: Matt Giteau (20, 53)
Penalty goal: Matt Giteau (18, 44, 70), Luke Burton (75)
RUGBY ATL 17
Try: Marko Janse van Rensburg (35), Ross Deacon (77)
Conversion: Kurt Coleman (35, 77)
Penalty goal: Kurt Coleman (15)
Half-time: 15-10 Giltinis
Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum