The Good, the Bad, and the Questions - Lightning Edition

By Alistair Kirsch-Poole
May 10, 2023 - 6:00pm

Lightning struck for a second time in the 2023 MLR season, cancelling Old Glory's match against Dallas at the halfway mark after doing the exact same to Seattle and Chicago six weeks ago. It's a weird state of affairs that left a lot for fans to think about, both good and bad.

The Good

We won (sorta)

Because MLR regulations state that a score will count as final as long as at least 40 minutes have been played by the time of cancellation, Old Glory gets to have another W on the record and four points in the standings. It was a close run thing, with OGDC's single score coming right at the end of the half. Still, a win is a win, and while it wasn't satisfying, I'm not going to complain about a win on the road against a trap team after a bye week.

Old Glory was the better team

This is going to be controversial, but I don't think Dallas really had much of a chance even if the match had continued. Jackals fans, and probably a fair number of neutrals as well, will likely object: the score was tight and the Jackals had put in a massive shift on defense to kill several OGDC scoring opportunities. They led for basically the entire half, only letting Old Glory in at the last minute after half an hour of trying.

Even so, there was never a doubt in my mind the Old Glory was the better team. The match was even because OGDC was playing some of the worst rugby we've seen from them all season. Horrific ball handling, bad support lines, sloppy, penalty-ridden defense, even a yellow card. Even so, Dallas wasn't able to punish Old Glory for that poor play.

Old Glory has played badly for stretches this year: against New York on the road (which also came after a bye week) and in the first half against San Diego. However, they have always picked themselves up and pulled themselves together. This team has done well with half-time adjustments, and I think this would have been no different. An improvement from Old Glory at halftime and Dallas wouldn't have stood a chance.

The scrum was superior

The front rows from both teams did not make it easy on the ref. They were both playing games, trying to cheat for an edge while calling out their opponents for doing so. When the dust settled, though, it was Old Glory with the clear advantage, with Iscaro in particular a dominant force.

The lineouts are now an advantage

With Kyle Baillie in the lineup, Old Glory was able to be a nuisance during the Jackal's lineouts while also securing their own throw ins. What a difference having an actual lock can make! After several weeks of missed and disrupted lineouts, Old Glory fans can finally relax again when the ball goes into touch.

The Bad

This is a bad situation for everyone

I feel bad for the Dallas Jackals, who had genuine reasons to think that they could win this game. I don't think they would have won anyway, but there's a reason we play the games. It's really unfortunate that they weren't given a chance to prove themselves.

It's also not great for Old Glory. The race for the Eastern conference is tight and every bonus points matters. OGDC came away with the win, sure, but they missed out on the four-try bonus that could have had them well clear of their rivals.

Finally, this wasn't great for the fans. It was not what you'd call beautiful rugby, riddled with errors and penalties. It also got cut short, robbing one fan base of a chance to see their team fight back and leaving the other with a hollow victory.

Truly, an unfortunate state of affairs all round.

Bye weeks are a recipe for disaster

Old Glory has a history of struggling after taking a week off. They have tended to look a little disconnected, leading to sloppy, error-ridden play. They survived against Dallas, but only with a last-minute try. It wasn't easy to watch Old Glory drop passes, get themselves isolated, misread kicks, and make a litany of other mistakes. The team was missing their edge, their cohesion built up over the last couple months.

The only good news here is that the team doesn't have any more bye weeks this season. They have an unbroken stretch right into the playoffs to build up momentum, hopefully leading straight into a playoff run. I'm hopeful that this is the last we'll see of this particular brand of Old Glory rugby.

The Questions

How good will the Gradyn/Tito combo be?

For weeks now, ever since Gradyn Bowd replaced Tito Diaz Bonilla as the starting flyhalf, I've been advocating for the team to find a way to put them both in the starting line up together. Well, on Sunday it finally happened, with Gradyn at flyhalf and Tito at fullback.

Unfortunately, I think it's still too soon to tell whether this particular combo will a successful one. This match was only 40 minutes long and, as discussed above, it was strewn with errors. It would be hard to untangle what was down to the combo and what was down to the team as a whole playing badly.

Still, I think there are reasons to be excited about the potential. Both Gradyn and Tito are talented players, but they each bring something different when lining up at 10. What we saw against was Dallas was the two of them switching up their positions, taking turns to line up as first receiver and drop back into the back field. If used properly, that could allow the team to get the best of both worlds, using the right flyhalf for the moment and opening up a whole new range of unpredictable structures. It could be the greatest partnership in the history of the MLR.

Of course, it could also lead to a messy back line that struggles to find consistency and cohesion, causing all sorts of problems. Only time will tell.