In a glorious first home game for this brand new team, Old Glory DC managed to pull an upset over the two-time MLR champions, the Seattle Seawolves. It was a tight game filled with tense moments, lead changes, and a dramatic ending that came down to the wire. Let's dive in with a recap and some takeaways.
It was a wonderful day for rugby, 50 degrees and sunny with a sellout crowd excited to watch some rugby.
the first half was one of Old Glory dominance. They opened the scoring with a break to the corner by Jason Robertson, which was followed by a penalty to put OGDC up eight points. However, they then gave up a couple of penalties in their own half that the Seawolves' Brock Staller converted into points. The game then settled into a back-and-forth, with both teams having chances but neither able to capitalize.
However, about thirty minutes in DC managed to get to the five meter line. The ball was passed down the line to Doug Fraser on the wing, who pushed through to score in the corner. Seattle got another shot after a penalty, making the score at halftime a respectable 13-9.
The Seawolves adjusted in the second half and came out of the gate fast, catching DC off-guard. They chipped away at the score with another penalty, then quickly after managed to stretch a disorganized OGDC defense for a try, putting them up 19-13 within minutes of the start of the half. However, Old Glory managed to slow Seattle's momentum and bring things back to an equilibrium.
things really shifted when DC Captain Mungo Mason intercepted a pass around his own 22 and ran it seventy some yards, before he was brought down just outside of the goal line. The Seattle player tackled high, though, and that gave OGDC a quick three points.
The Seawolves kicked another penalty to reestablish their six point lead just a minute or two later, but the momentum in the match had swung firmly back to Old Glory. The crowd was getting noisy and the team had found its footing. They capitalized on some sloppy Seattle play, which lead to a skip pass to Renata Roberts-Te Nana for a try, which was successfully converted to put DC ahead by one, 23-22.
Old Glory kept the pressure on Seattle, play a lot in the Seawolves' half on both defense and offense. Play was tense and aggressive, with neither team able to fully capitalize against the other team's staunch defense. Then, with just under three minutes to go, quick play lead to another OGDC try to put them up by six, 28-22. Needing a converted try to win, the Seawolves drove furiously down the field to the try line. With time expired, they punched over the line but couldn't touch the ball down, so the try was held up and the game over.
Final score: Old Glory 28-22 Seawolves
1. The Beast is worth every penny
Before Sunday, there were some unanswered questions about Tendai Mtawarira. Was he going to live up to the hype? Could one man really make that much of a difference to a struggling scrum? I think we can safely answer those questions now.
The first scrum was bad, as was the second. By the third, though, Mtawarira had clearly done something to get everyone working together properly. From that point on, while they definitely weren't dominant, they were stable enough in attacking scrums to establish a platform. From there, they were able to settle into a rhythm and build a real attacking game.
As the Beast finally settles into pack, having time to practice with them, coach them, and provide the insight that his experience brings, the Old Glory scrum should only get better. For now, let's be glad it's no longer a liability.
2. Old Glory plays fast and hard
With the forwards sorting out the scrum, it was the backs' time to shine. It started with Danny Tusitala at scrumhalf, who encouraged fast play by getting the ball out quickly. Over 60% of rucks lasted less than 3 seconds. That meant it got out to Jason Robertson before the defensive line was fully set, giving the whole line a moment to breathe. Robertson, while we're on him, had a great day with two tries and some on-point chips. The other standout was Doug Fraser on the wing, who was out the first week with an injury. He showed great speed in space, and his ability to chase kicks was a huge asset.
This does a lot to support what we've already seen from Old Glory. We've seen their explosive offensive threat before, but this time it was in a real game with victory on the line. When they were good in open play against ATL, it was the preseason. When they were good against NOLA, it was in a game they had no hope of winning. I've said it before, but the ability score points against any defense means that they will win some games they shouldn't. Sunday, I guess, was proof.
3. This is actually a good defensive team
When a team scores 46 points against you, it would tend to make you think that they aren't good at defense. By definition, giving up a lot of points isn't good. But it's important to remember that we gave up 46 points under ideal conditions for our opponents. They had scrum penalties galore. They had all the field position they could want. After the first half, they had an opponent that was demoralized and realized they couldn't win. And all of those advantages were for a team that scored more tries than anyone last year. Those are not the conditions that we should use to judge this team.
Under more normal conditions this game, Old Glory performed admirably on defense. They held a team that averaged over 30 points a game last season to a single try. Every time a Seattle player picked up the ball, there were two Old Glory players to tackle him. Every time the Seawolves were pushing on the try line, a disciplined and organized line opposed them. OGDC has shown its mettle on defense.
4. Why isn't Renata Roberts Te-Nana kicking?
Jason Robertson had a great game, right up until you teed up a ball in front of him. He only made two kicks all game, missing three conversion kicks and a couple of penalties. While the conversions weren't easy, being in the corners, that's also not abnormal. That's why it's puzzling that Robertson was taking the attempts, when Roberts-Te Nana made basically every kick in the preseason. He was essentially automatic.
I'm not on the practice field, so maybe there's something I don't know that led the coaches to give the job to Robertson over Roberts Te-Nana. I just hope that reason isn't simply that he's the flyhalf, because that is a lot of points to leave on the field for tradition. Old Glory might have won by ten, twelve, or even more if some of those kicks had gone through.
5. Cardinal Stadium was rocking
The official number is 2850, which for a stadium that seats 2500 is impressive. Though it took a moment for the crowd to really get into it, by the second half the place was roaring, stomping, chanting, and cheering. The atmosphere was electric and the calls of "Beast!" rang out every time Mtawarira touched the ball. You couldn't ask for more from a home crowd.