Beating the Jacks - the Good, the Bad, and the Questions

By Alistair Kirsch-Poole
Mar 14, 2024 - 5:30pm

I'm bringing back a format from last year, known as GBQ: the Good, the Bad, and the Questions.

The Good

It's always satisfying to beat a rival

But this wasn't just beating a rival - it was beating them on the road, at their home opener, on the night they were presenting their championship rings, when they had supreme confidence in their own superiority. I'm not going to say it's the most satisfying a win could be, but it's probably close.

This forward pack is menacing

Old Glory's forwards were the stars of the show this week. Martin Vaca, of course, will get his own bullet point for his stellar performance, but it's really as a unit that the forwards were powerful. The mauls were near unstoppable, the lineouts consistent, the lineout defense consistently disruptive, and the scrum overpowering. It was a level of dominance upfront that might be superior to anything we've seen yet from Old Glory.

And it's not a fluke. While the coherence wasn't quite there to dominate NOLA last week, we did see a lot of the same positive signs. The set piece in particular has been top notch two weeks in a row. It's also a credit to NOLA's forwards that they held us back as much as they did.

Martin Vaca has his moment

While he wasn't bad last week by any means, this was the game where Martin Vaca proved that he has insane potential. The young hooker out of Argentina was one of the interesting signings of the offseason, a promising prospect who hadn't yet shown what he could do at a professional level.

He's certainly shown that now. He tore up the pitch with a hat trick of tries, one of them a beautiful linebreak from 20 meters out. He also put in 11 tackles without a single attempt missed and ran for an impressive 64 meters. It was a complete performance, and puts to rest any fears anyone might have had about the departure of Nic Souchon.

Proven grit

Last week I was in two minds about this team. On the one hand, I had a lot of confidence: I was excited by the new signings and there were a ton of positives in the NOLA match in the defense and set piece particularly. The team felt like it was in control for most of the match. On the other hand, the actual results from the NOLA match told a different story: the team struggled to score with no tries and just two penalties, and when down late they did little to get themselves back in the match. Believing in the former meant ignoring the facts, believing in the latter meant ignoring my instincts.

This match resolved all that nicely. The team again seemed controlled, and this time showed the sort of grit necessary to come back from quite a big deficit. They remained calm and used their strength, their forwards, to put New England in a tough spot.

I can't stress enough how big it is that they forced New England into the level of ill-discipline we saw at the end of the match. Usually, it's the team that's behind that feels the pressure and tries to do a bit more than is legal in an attempt to get back in. Old Glory flipped that and managed to put New England on the back foot at a time when they should have had the advantage. It was an impressive show of determination from OGDC's players.

So my instincts were correct: we can put week 1's lacklustre start down to knocking off the rust.

Robertson unlocks the back line

There's a lot of progress still to be made in backs, as I'll get into below, but moving Jason Robertson to flyhalf was an excellent first step. He was on point in this match, singlehandedly creating the gap for Vaca to score his first try and kicking beautifully off the tee.

It's worth mentioning that Bowd moving to fullback was also an improvement. He was reliable under the high ball and gave as good as he got in the kicking battle, even putting in a spectacular 50-22.

The Bad

Five tries is a lot to concede

This is another area where I've got a mental conflict between what I feel (that this defense is rock solid) and what has actually happened (the defense conceded 5 tries). The defense, when organized and set in their lines, has been solid and allowed very little progress for the Free Jacks.

The weakness, though, is in broken play, particularly in the backs. It was the same last week, with most of our opponents tries coming from exploiting the back line in chaotic situations.

Part of this could simply be down to the limited experience of our current back line. Due to a large number of players being unavailable, the team has had to start inexperienced backs, and this could be the result.

The Questions

When will we see the stars we signed?

Old Glory signed some experienced, big name back three players in the offseason: Damien Hoyland, Axel Muller, and Perry Humphreys. All three boast significant experience in the best leagues in Europe are in the prime of their careers. But so far, we've yet to see much of them: Hoyland has been stuck in the visa process, Muller has been serving the tail end of a suspension, and Humphreys only played one game before getting injured.

There is hope on the horizon, though. Muller's suspension is finished, so he's available to play right now. Hoyland is in the country and just needs to finish off the paperwork before he's available. Humphreys' situation is a little less clear, but he doesn't seem to be injured long term and could be back soon.

Honestly, I can't wait to see them all take the pitch.

Who will separate themselves from the pack?

Around the league, it's become clear that there are some teams that aren't quite at the level of the rest of the pack. Chicago, Dallas, and RFC LA are all close, but feel like they're half a step behind. Miami feels a little further, maybe a full step behind. Anthem, clearly, is a couple steps behind.

However, among the rest of the teams there has been remarkable parity. We have yet to see any team to definitively mark themselves as ahead of the pack. The games between them have been tight and closely contested until the end. Who will we see come out of this group and mark themselves as the favorite?

I think Old Glory has a chance to be one of the teams that pulls ahead. There is so much good stuff going on in this team, and I think we could have a genuine title contender on our hands. If the backs can work out their issues, this team could be damn near unstoppable. However, it's still only week two and there's a lot left to be figured out.