Old Glory DC has swept the state of Texas in their two-week tour of the state and left with some hardware to show for it. Despite the Beast resting up, Old Glory was able to hold off a late push by the Austin Gilgronis to win by nine on the road. They are now the first to lift the Cuisine Solutions Cup.
Austin opened the game with a drive down the field, but they were stopped at the goal line. A stable scrum allowed DC to clear, and a penalty in the Austin half gave them first blood about five minutes in. They followed it up with good attacking pressure, and a chip through the line at midfield was recovered and taken all the way in for a try by Old Glory. Robertson hit the conversion for a 10-0 lead not even ten minutes into the game.
Play went back and forth for a while, with both teams getting good attacking pressure but being unable to capitalize on it. However, a penalty at the Austin 22 allowed Robertson to put another 3 points on the board. Shortly after, Old Glory had a huge line break and wonderful support and offloading to score their second try. The conversion was good, putting them up 20-0 after just 25 minutes of play.
Austin felt the urgency and stepped up their attack, while DC settled into a more defensive role after their explosive start. Despite the pressure and strong running by the Gilrgronis, the Old Glory defense held. The end of the half was dominated by a strong goal-line stand by DC, with two scores held up in the try zone. However, mounting penalties lead to a yellow card being shown to DC's Will Vakalahi, which was followed quickly by a penalty try for Austin. As time expired in the half, a penalty against the Gilgronis gave Robertson the final word with 3 points.
Halftime: Old Glory 23-7 Austin
The second half was littered with mistakes, as both teams generated pressure on attack before turning it over. Eventually, Austin managed to push a lineout maul over the try line and dot it down for another try fifteen minutes into the half. The conversion was good, bringing the Old Glory lead down to single digits.
DC got a chance to answer back, but they were held up in the end zone. The scrum at five meters was unfavorable, and Austin relieved the pressure. A series of Old Glory mistakes and unfavorable calls took the ball all the way back into DC territory. Austin seized that opportunity to get another try in the corner, although they missed the conversion, leaving it a 4 point game to Old Glory with less than ten minutes in the match.
Energized to save their slipping lead, OGDC made a strong drive into Austin territory, eventually coming up with a try in the corner by Renata Roberts-Te Nana with just a couple minutes to go. Robertson had his only miss of the night on the conversion, but the match ended soon after.
Final Score: Old Glory 28-19
1. Old Glory needs to keep an eye on their errors
Austin did a good job to get themselves back into this match. Despite being down 20, they rallied together, cut down on their attacking mistakes, and stiffened their defense. But they didn't do it alone. As Austin started to get better, Old Glory noticeably declined. They found just about every possible way to turn the ball over once they'd built up some momentum. On defense, they played aggressively to the point of sloppiness, resulting in the yellow card for Vakalahi.
This isn't what we saw against Seattle. In that game, OGDC made the most of what they could get and played with focus. It's not as if they didn't make mistakes, but the errors they made felt more natural and understandable. In this game, their mistakes felt irritatingly inevitable.
My theory is that Old Glory requires good play from their opponents to feed of off. When they don't feel threatened, as they didn't for most of this match, they lose that mental edge that keeps everything on point. As we saw, they were capable of turning it back on once Austin made it close, but they needed that jolt to bring them back to life. Against Austin, that was enough. Against a tough Eastern conference, it may not be.
2. Scrums were stable even without the Beast (until they weren't)
While it has to be said that Austin doesn't have the best of scrums, the fact that DC was able to keep everything stable in the first half without their star prop was heartening. To see everything stay perfectly still and square in the scrum was immensely satisfying. It didn't last, of course. After losing Will Vakalahi at tighthead to a yellow card, the pack lost their mojo and weren't able to get it back for the rest of the match.
Still, this is progress from a scrum that has been atrocious. The team has gotten impressively good at working around their bad scrums, defying the wisdom that a good scrum is essential. But if they want to be great, they will eventually need to at least get to neutral in the set piece, without Tendai Mtawarira having to play every game whistle to whistle.
3. Austin is so, so close
They have the talent. They have the passion. They have the thirst for victory. They just can't put it all together for long enough to win. Every week, Austin plays 30-50 minutes of great rugby. All they need is the consistency to avoid getting in holes to deep to climb out of. That's all that really separates them from the middle of the MLR pack.
4. You know you have quality in the backs when Renata Roberts-Te Nana can come off the bench
Oftentimes, the last stretch of the match is a balancing act for coaches who want to keep their best players in the game while also putting some fresh legs on the pitch. That decision is far easier when you have a player of the quality of Roberts-Te Nana on the bench. The difference with him coming in was noticeable, and it was fitting that he scored that last try. It's a real advantage for Old Glory to have him and be able to keep him fresh for the second half.
5. Jason Robertson is developing into a star
He had a shaky game kicking against Seattle, and I had doubts about his ability to deliver. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. In the time since that game, Robertson has been excellent from the tee and has been the difference in these last two matches. He has a real chance at ending this season as the leading scorer in the league.
On top of that, he and Danny Tusitala have made one of the best halfback pairings anywhere. As a maestro of the Old Glory attack, he has been dynamic and impressive, and I can't wait to see how he develops over the season.