Old Glory remains unbeaten this season as they emerged victorious from a 30-23 victory over Rugby ATL in their very first match at Segra Field. It wasn't an easy victory, with DC climbing back from a 10 point deficit. However, with a strong second half they secured a win and rose to second in the conference standings. It was an impressive showing, all the more so because they did it without star flyhalf Jason Robertson.
The intensity that these two teams brought was evident from the moment of kickoff. Both teams took opportunities for points where they could, with Atlanta attempting their first kick just six minutes in. It went wide, however, allowing Old Glory to open up the scoring a few minutes later with a kick from Danny Tusitala.
Both sides tested the other's defenses, but neither could break through. This lead to an alternating series of penalties that lead to a tied match, 6-6, about half way in.
As the half went on, however, Atlanta started to assert more dominance and push harder into Old Glory territory. DC showed their trademark resolve and held off the Ratlers, until eventually an Atlanta player slipped through and scored the first try. With the conversion good, ATL took the lead, 6-13. They added another penalty to make it 6-16 heading into the second half.
Old Glory reconfigured a bit heading into the second half. Danny Tusitala returned to his natural position of scrumhalf while Mike Dabulas took over as flyhalf. This change was enough to reignite the attack. Old Glory came roaring out of the gates and took control of the game.
OGDC pushed right up to the ATL try line, and almost made it over before knocking it on. However, a yellow card came out for an Atlanta player, giving DC another crack. This time, Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz set up Callum Gibbins for the try. Tusitala's conversion was good, making it 13-16 to Atlanta.
They then came right back and did it again. Renata Roberts-Te Nana made it most of the way down the pitch before stepping out of bounds. DC managed to steal the lineout, though, and forced a penalty. Tusitala took it quickly and sailed right through for another try. The conversion was good and Old Glory retook the lead, 20-16
Some strong running from Sam Cusano set up another opportunity for a try, but ATL held them out this time. They did concede a penalty, though, so Tusitala kicked it between the posts to make it a seven point game, 23-16. Old Glory continued their dominance, eventually securing a third try on a push by Api Naikatini, to put the game at 30-16 with just a few minutes left.
However, Atlanta was not out. Shortly after Naikatini's try, Old Glory took their foot off the gas and let a long run from ATL go in for a try. The conversion was good to bring it back within seven, but Old Glory held possession and finished the match.
Final score: Old Glory 30-23 Rugby ATL
1. Tusitala is not a flyhalf (but that's okay)
Jason Robertson's injury threw everything out of whack. The logical choice would have been to simply put his backup, Mike Dabulas, in at flyhalf. However, the coach Douglas instead of to move Tusitala to flyhalf and have Sean Hartig move in at scrumhalf. The logic, it seems, was to use Tusitala's excellent game awareness to make up for the loss of Robertson.
The results were pretty clear: Tusitala, brilliant as he is, is not a flyhalf. His movement, the way he covered, the way he directed his fellow players, none of it fit the position he was being asked to play. Once Tusitala switched back to scrumhalf and Dabulas took over at flyhalf, the attack felt more normal and started operating much closer to its normal level.
It was an interesting experiment, although it was rough to match half a match of slow play because of it. It didn't turn out, but we did at least learn something important: Dabulas will be fine covering for Robertson.
2. The scrum is fine... until the bench comes on
For most of the match, the scrum was good and held itself together. It's a huge relief after the disaster of last season to see some stable scrums and solid attacking platforms. But as soon as the backups came on, Old Glory started to once again give up penalties at the scrum. They mostly held together long enough to get the ball out on attack, but when defending they went backwards every time.
This is a concerning trend, because we can't expect the starting players to play every minute of every match. If the bench is consistently weak, teams will start exploiting that to get back into games.
Now, it is worth keeping in mind that most of the forwards coming off the bench are young and will likely improve as the season goes on. This is also a well-regarded Atlanta scrum that probably represents the worst-case scenario. Still, it's something to keep an eye on as it could be a problem moving forward.
3. Sam Cusano could be a breakout star
Sam Cusano was originally slated to play this season for the Dallas Jackals, and thus was left high and dry when they pulled out of the 2021 season. In the dispersion draft that followed, Old Glory picked up Cusano to help fill in a depleted back line. He is young, fresh out of college, and not the biggest lad, so I was concerned when it became clear that he would have to be a starter this season.
Those concerns can be laid to rest, as Cusano was electric by the end of the match. It was evident that with every touch of the ball, every quick dash down the sideline, every cutback and dodge, he is getting more confident. If his trajectory continues, he could be one of the breakout stars of the 2021 season.
4. Segra Field is perfect (if you can get there)
I have no complaints about Segra Field. The stands are comfortable and close to pitch, the facilities are good enough, and even with limited fans the atmosphere was great. I really can't wait to see the place rocking with the weight of thousands of rugby fans when restrictions lift. It should be loads of fun.
There is no getting around the fact, though, that the place is so, so far away. If you have a car and are in Northern Virginia already, it's not too bad, but for anyone else it is about as poorly located as possible. The team will have to offer some sort of shuttle from the metro if they ever want to fill the place up.