Rugby ATL came to DC to play Old Glory in their final preseason match of the year, and their first against a fellow professional side. The match was close and hard-fought, giving an interesting taste of what’s to come.
This game was unfortunately not streamed, so here’s a recap:
The game started quickly, with ATL kicking a penalty and following up with a try in the first ten minutes. This opening period saw DC being outdone physically and committing frequent penalties. It seemed like they weren’t prepared for the ferocity that ATL brought right out of the gate.
However, after a small scuffle broke out on the sideline, DC found their edge and things became competitive, leading to an Old Glory try pushed in by the forwards.
The rest of the half was notable in just how close the two teams were in almost everything. Momentum and pressure oscillated between the two, but neither could make anything out of it. It was a tight, intense, and defensive performance from both sides. It’s worth noting that both sides had chances to score from penalties, with ATL missing a kick for points and DC opting to go for the corner even on a perfectly centered penalty on the 22.
Halftime: Old Glory 7-10 ATL
DC scored a try right out of the gate in the opening minutes of the half. They found a gap in the defensive line and exploited the opportunity perfectly with excellent support and sharp offloads all the way to the end zone. This is something we also saw last week against Navy.
The next twenty minutes or so saw more of the same defensive-dominant play from both teams, although the intensity slowly drifted down a notch from the first half. It was still tough and physical, with impacts that could be heard clearly from across the field, but it didn’t have the edge of very personal aggression that the first half had.
The last twenty minutes saw scoring in abundance. Two Old Glory tries came in quick succession, with both following the format of the one earlier in the half: a break in the line with great support going all the way. ATL responded with their first points in nearly 70 minutes by pushing in a try through good old-fashioned forwards play. To wrap up, DC blocked a kick in the red zone for an easy try.
All the usual caveats about preseason matches apply. It’s hard to tell what about a game is real and what is an illusion created by subbed players and an attempt to get experience rather than a win. That aside, I think there are some good reasons to take this match more seriously than most. First of all, it was structured like a real match, with two 40 minute halves and limited subs. Second, it was clear that the players on both teams really wanted to win.
1. Old Glory will have slow starts
Just like last week, DC took a moment to get into this game, and the hesitance around being physical was clear. Once they got pumped up and found their game, though, their inexperience as a team was not nearly so evident. We’ll see if slow starts continue into the season, but I would bet that they will.
2. The OGDC Scrum… needs some work
And that is putting it politely. There were a handful of scrums towards the end where the Old Glory scrum maintained some semblance of stability and avoided a penalty, but overall the DC scrum was a disaster. The tighthead side of the scrum simply couldn’t handle what ATL was throwing at it, collapsing and being driven backwards basically every time. The important caveat is that the Beast was not in attendance, but even with him at loosehead, the tighthead would be a problem.
The only positive I can come up with for the scrum is that the forwards were a physical match for ATL in every other aspect of the game. That means this is an issue of technique and tactics, both of which can be learned, as opposed to a lack of strength, which cannot. Honestly, this might be as much a testament to how much more cohesive ATL is as a team already as to any long term deficiency in Old Glory.
3. Old Glory’s offensive threat lies in it’s explosive line breaks
It’s worth taking what happened after the 60 minute mark with a grain of salt, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take anything from it. In a continuation of the trend from the Navy game last week, it’s clear that OGDC will be the sort of team that makes limited progress and then explodes for a try after a break in the line from a back. There wasn’t anything you could point to that ATL did wrong in preventing those tries, it was just good support and good offloads from DC.
This explosiveness might lead to Old Glory beating someone they shouldn’t later in the season, when a team that wins in the trenches finds all its hard work wiped out in seconds by an explosive try.
4. Both DC and ATL have a lineout problem
It felt like each team was as likely to win the other’s lineout as their own. Obviously, both teams have some work to do to get those sorted out, or their seasons could do downhill pretty quickly.