Old Glory lost to Houston last weekend in a match that was on fire in more ways than one. The 42-59 final score put the combined total at a scorching 101 points, a new MLR record. The weather was also hot, in the mid-90's in the stands and reaching 109 degrees on the pitch, all while the sun beat down relentlessly.
The attack was everything that we've been waiting for
With six tries and 42 points, this was the best attacking performance we've seen from Old Glory. While they scored a little more against Dallas a few weeks ago, I don't think anyone would suggest that Dallas is comparable on defense to Houston.
This week, Old Glory showed us what they can be when everything is working. Play was fast, with Tusitala consistently getting quick ball out of the rucks. The players he was passing to were anything but flat-footed, running aggressively onto the pass and keeping the team moving forward. People were in the perfect position to receive offloads and grab another few meters. The backs had a particularly great day, with Renata Roberts-Te Nana and Willie Talataina grabbing a brace of tries each.
The final score doesn't tell the whole story
It's always unfortunate when the final score doesn't reflect the competitiveness of the match. The final score here shows a comfortable 17-point margin for the Sabercats, but this game was anything but comfortable. The two teams traded tries for most of the match, spending a lot of time tied or even with Old Glory ahead. It wasn't until Old Glory started pushing their luck a little too far in the dying minutes that the score grew as large as it did.
To illustrate the point, here's the scoring chart from Tackle the Numbers:
That is what a close-fought match looks like.
109 points conceded in two matches
Old Glory's defense used to be respectable. After a rough start to life early in the season, it had pulled itself together, graduated from college, and settled down with a decent job. Sure, it had problems, like that pesky pick-n-go off the back of rucks, but it was roughly on par with it's peers. Suddenly, however, everything has collapsed. The defense is now unemployed and back living with its parents after conceding 109 points in just two matches. It spends its days eating Doritos while playing video games in the basement.
Seriously though, humorous analogies aside, these last two weeks have been rough. Old Glory has been largely unable to do anything more than slow their opponents down in their pursuit of the try zone. Houston's hooker Dean Muir achieved the try bonus on his own, with four tries off the back of mauls.
Ill-discipline, thy name is Old Glory
Of course, there is one good explanation for why the defense suffered so much today. Old Glory received three cards in this match, a yellow each for Fintan Coleman and Felix Kalapu and a red for Api Naikatini. That adds up to 30 minutes of OGDC being down a man, plus another 5 of being down two men. That's essentially half the match. That is an absolutely wild level of ill-discipline.
This also isn't a new problem. Old Glory's players have been suspended more often and for longer than any other team this year. Some of that is bad luck, but it's unlikely all of it is. This team needs to take a good long look in the mirror and figure out where all of this is coming from.
How long will it be before Cory Daniel debuts on the international stage?
We all knew Cory Daniel had potential after last year. He looked a little raw, but he had the drive and the instincts to make a big impression on the league. This year, he has only continued to make progress, cementing his place as an unquestioned starter and rising star. This week, he rose to number two on the league-wide list of top tacklers, with a serious shot of making the top spot before then end of the year. On top of that, he displayed and extra level of talent last weekend by being near perfect jumping for contested kicks. I'm starting to think that there's nothing this guy can't do.
For the Eagles, there is a lot of turmoil in the back row. Old veteran Cam Dolan has been a sure starter at number 8, but there are questions about his work rate on defense. In the flanker positions things have been very open, with the top two choices of last year currently serving suspensions and the third injured. There is clearly space for a high upside, high work-rate player like Daniel to break into the lineup.
Don't expect to see Cory Daniel in an Eagles jersey too soon. Brilliant as he is, internationals are another level of speed that would take him time to adjust to. Right now, team USA just needs to focus on getting through this qualifying series with Chile. They need reliable veterans who understand each other and can handle the level of play - they can't afford to wait for Daniel to get up to speed. Still, I really hope he gets a real shot in the near future, perhaps as early as the fall tests. I think he certainly has a lot to bring to the team.
Who will stick around for next year?
It's getting towards the end of the season; there are just a couple of matches left for players to prove themselves. During the offseason, the roster will likely undergo a fairly significant remodel as the new coach, be that Osborne or someone else, crafts the team that suits their style. Even if they're good players in their own right, some players will leave simply because they aren't compatible with what the new regime is building.
I'm not going to speculate too much on who is staying or going. After all, we don't even know who the new coach is yet, much less their desired style. Even so, this team definitely does need a makeover. I think the bones of the team are good, but they clearly need an upgrade of talent if they are going to compete for the playoffs next season.