The LA Giltinis made a six-try statement today with an impressive debut as 42-27 victors on the opening day of the Major League Rugby season.
Two early tries from man-of-the-match winger DTH van der Merwe set the tone as the Giltinis christened their new home in style at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Giltinis led from the opening whistle to full-time against the gritty New England Free Jacks with a mix of sharp attacking plays and excellent execution from the forwards.
It was a day of emotion, achievement and relief for the new MLR club which conquered a year of hurdles to put a well-drilled team on the field with players from seven countries.
Giltinis captain Dave Dennis, the former Australian international, led the forwards with his expertise as a lineout winner and rumbling runner.
Playmaker Matt Giteau, the three-time Rugby World Cup star for Australia, showed his class with his sharp passing and direction so the Giltinis could jump to 21-7 after 20 minutes.
“Just getting the win is the big feeling because there has been so much time effort, angst and stress to get to the starting line,” head coach Darren Coleman said.
“Seeing the players binding up in the dressing room to sing the team song for the first time and what it meant there almost overshadowed what happened on the field.
“We did score some nice tries early and DTH was class with the way he finished every opportunity.
“We know we need to be more clinical but today is about something bigger with getting rugby in LA a winning start in the MLR.”
Giteau’s kicking in tandem with halfback Harrison Goddard provided a clear advantage with good field position throughout the game.
van der Merwe, capped 61 times for Canada, had a superb match as the most decisive attacker on the field. Beating three defenders down the left touchline didn’t produce a third try but it was a clear sign of the positive play the Giltinis will uncork throughout this season.
The match was only four minutes old when van der Merwe wrote himself into club history as the Giltinis’ first tryscorer in the MLR.
The winger ran a close support line and skipped over off a fine backhand flick pass from Giteau.
van Der Merwe had a double by the ninth minute on the end of a quick strike backline move. Clean lineout ball from lock Nathan Den Hoedt fed the backs, Giteau took the ball out the back from centre Billy Meakes and fullback Glenn Bryce delivered the final pass so van der Merwe could run in the try.
The 14-0 jump was the perfect start of clean handling, ball control and good execution.
The Free Jacks narrowed the margin to 14-7 before the Giltinis showed their attacking potency again in the 20th minute.
Off a turnover, the Giltinis swung the ball wide and put impressive flanker Angus Cottrell over for a try unopposed.
After 21 minutes, the game took a twist when the Giltinis were reduced to 14 men when flanker Christian Poidevin was yellow carded for mildly continuing a cleanout on the edge of a ruck.
The Free Jacks had two players yellow carded themselves for lifting tackles but the visitors still crossed through a Beaudein Waaka try with only 14 players on the field late in the first half.
The half-time score of 21-17 was as close as the Free Jacks got.
Non-stop hooker Mahe Vailanu, Den Hoedt, Cottrell and Dennis were the pick of a strong forward effort and the pack kept the ball in tight to settle the game.
Standout hooker Mahe Vailanu drove over for his second try, with Cottrell latched to his back, to make it 28-17 in the 45th minute.
It was an ideal relay to capitalise on the Free Jacks being down to 14 men because halfback John Poland was red carded in the 52nd minute when he inadvertently kicked No.8 Adam Ashe in the head when trying to hack at the football.
Coleman was pleased with the impact he got from the bench late in the game.
In his 20 minutes of action, replacement flanker Pago Haini made a strong charge before showing his strength again on the shortside of a ruck by bullocking through two defenders to score.
Replacement winger Ryan James swooped on a loose ball for a 20-yard run and delivered a nice off-load to follow up.
PLAY OF THE GAME:
Quick strike try off turnover ball. A long Billy Meakes pass freed space for backrower Angus Cottrell to score out wide just a blink after the Giltinis had won a turnover.
LA GILTINIS 42
Tries:DTH van der Merwe 2, Angus Cottrell, Mahe Vailanu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pago Haini
Conversions:Matt Giteau 5, Luke Carty 1
NEW ENGLAND FREE JACKS 27
Tries:Joe Johnston, Beaudein Waaka, Vili Toluta’u
Conversions:Harrison Boyle, 2, Beaudein Waaka
Penalty goal: Beaudein Wakka 1, John Poland 1
Man of the Match:DTH van der Merwe (Giltinis)
The Giltinis are back to play their next MLR match against Seattle Seawolves on Sunday, March 28 at their home ground, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The match will be broadcast live at 5:30pm PT on Fox Sports West / Prime Ticket in Los Angeles and can also be viewed live on The Rugby Network internationally.