The preseason is over – time to start the season for real
When: Saturday, February 8, 2020
Time: 4:00 pm Kickoff
Where: The Gold Mine, New Orleans (map)
Opponent: NOLA Gold
Channel: ESPN+ (streaming), NBC Sports Washington (local)
Watch party: Exiles Bar (map)
What about the Beast? Unfortunately, Tendai Mtawarira will not be playing
- Matt Harmon
- Eric Howard
- Dino Waldren
- Ignacio Dotti
- Kyle Baillie
- Moni Tongauiha
- Malcolm May
- Cam Dolan
- Holden Yungert
- Scott Gale
- Julian Dominguez
- Con Foley
- Carl Meyer
- Tim Maupin
- Robbie Coleman
Old Glory DC
- Jake Turnbull
- Max Lum
- Gordon Fullerton
- Tevita Naqali
- Api Naikatini
- Travis Larsen
- Mungo Mason
- Jamason Fa’anana-Shultz
- Danny Tusitala
- Jason Robertson
- Renata Roberts-Te Nana
- Ciaran Hearn
- Tretton Palamo
- Doug Fraser
- Dylan Taikoto-Simpson
How good is NOLA?
NOLA Gold is one of the original seven teams, meaning they have a solid two years under their belt as a professional team. This means we have a an actual idea of how good they are and how they like to play.
Looking at last year, NOLA was good. They finished right in the middle of the pack with a 9-7 record on the season and were the best team that didn’t make the playoffs. However, they were far from being an average team. They scored the third most tries in the MLR and only once did they lose by more than a single score (against the best-in-league San Diego Legion). They had a great start to the season, but they were beset by injuries that caused them to drop off at the end. If they stay healthy, they could easily make the playoffs this year.
NOLA played a couple of preseason fixtures, losing a tight one to Rugby ATL 33-34 and winning a blowout against the Houston SaberCats 47-12. While you should never read too much into the specific score of preseason matches, it’s worth noting a couple of things: 1. NOLA destroyed Houston, which means that they likely haven’t regressed during the offseason; 2. ATL held their ground against NOLA, which means ATL is probably in a similar tier to the Gold (more on this point later).
In many ways, they are the perfect team to gauge how good Old Glory is. NOLA has a balance between defense and attack, they are consistent, and they are a high quality side without being unbeatable.
Who on NOLA should we watch out for?
NOLA doesn’t have any splashy signings on the level of Tendai Mtawarira or Ma’a Nonu, but what that doesn’t mean they don’t have some excellent players. Their hooker and captain, Eric Howard, is a force to be reckoned with and scored nine tries last year. Starting around him are six other international-level forwards in Dino Waldren, Ben Tarr, Nikola Bursic, Ignacio Dotti, Kyle Baillie, and Cam Dolan.
In the backs, the two to be particularly careful of are fullback JP Eloff and winger Julian Dominguez. Both have played for national sides and represent an explosive offensive threat. However, Tristan Blewett, one of the stars of MLR from last season, will not be returning as he has decided to continue his education in South Africa.
What can we expect from Old Glory?
It is always hard to judge an expansion team, since there is precious little data from which to draw conclusions. However, the few signs that we do have point to this being a close game.
To start with, Old Glory held their own against ATL, who held their own against NOLA. The transitive property doesn’t completely apply to sports teams, but it does suggest that Old Glory is at least at a similar level to NOLA and won’t be totally outclassed on the field. OGDC has also demonstrated an explosiveness in offense that ensures that they won’t be totally stifled. This will, if nothing else, keep them in the game and give them a good chance for an upset.
That said, there are some things to be concerned about. In both preseason matches, Old Glory has started slowly. It takes them a moment to find a rhythm and come together as a team, and it remains to be seen whether they can recover from that against an experienced professional team like NOLA.
Furthermore, their set pieces are still very rough. Against Atlanta, both teams were as likely to lose a lineout as win it. NOLA won’t have that problem. The scrum also has a long way to go. Against ATL, the Old Glory pack was driven back and run into the ground essentially every time. OGDC Head Coach Andrew Douglas has said as much, admitting that they haven’t given it as much time as it deserves in practice. However, I imagine that the scrum has been a key focus of preparations these last two weeks, so hopefully things will be a bit better this time around.
Who should I get excited about for Old Glory?
Oh boy, where to start? Old Glory is rife with top level talent. In the forwards, OGDC has MLR-experience in championship winner Apisai Naikatini, as well as Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz and Dylan Pieterse. They also have young players like Jack Iscaro, Nic Mirhashem, and Will Vakalahi who have shown a lot of promise.
The backs have Samoan international Danny Tusitala at scrumhalf, Canadian internationals Doug Fraser and Ciaran Hearn and US international Thretton Palamo in the center, New Zealand sevens international star Declan O’Donnel on the wing, and the explosive Dylan Taikato-Simpson at fullback.
The obvious name that has been left out here is Tendai Mtawarira, also known as the Beast, who was the starting loosehead prop for the World Cup winning South African team in 2019. Unfortunately, he and a number of other international players have been held up by visa issues, so he won’t be playing on Saturday.
Honestly, who knows? It’s an expansion team and rugby is a chaotic sport. I asked an 8-ball earlier if Old Glory would win, and it replied “Unlikely”. I asked if the game would at least be close, and it turned up “Indications say yes”. That sounds about right, so let’s go with DC 21-24 NOLA.