MLR Shield Final Preview: LA Giltinis vs Rugby ATL

The Major League Rugby Shield Final will feature the Western Conference Champion, LA Giltiinis, against the Eastern Conference Champion, Rugby ATL, on Sunday, August 1 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at 4 pm ET (1 pm local). The match will be broadcast on CBS, TSN2 (Canada), and internationally on The Rugby Network.

In the Western Conference Final, the LA Giltinis came back to beat the Utah Warriors 17-13, while in the Eastern Final, Rugby ATL scored in the 75th minute for a comeback 10-9 win over Rugby United New York.

Major League Rugby is to be commended in following COVID-19 protocols and did not have any matches canceled during the season. The introduction of the TMO in the Conference Finals was also a necessary change and will be needed in all matches in 2022. Making the matches accessible globally was also a significant accomplishment with the inception of The Rugby Network.

LA Giltinis

The LA Giltinis was the attack leader of MLR, scoring 562 points during the regular season, 83 tries, while being the second team in points conceded with 318, just behind the Austin Gilgonis with 317. Their point differential was 240, compared to second place Rugby ATL with 99. The team also led the league in lineouts won (106).

It is not a surprise that LA has many players that are among the MLR attack leaders. Matt Giteau is first in conversions (33) and eighth in total points (83). The team has three of the top try scorers in DTH Van Der Merwe who is tied for first with 10 tries, Angus Cottrell is third with 9, and Harrison Goddard is tied for seventh with 8. Goddard also is tied for second in try assists with nine, while Luke Carty is in eighth with 6.

Matt Giteau has elevated Sunday’s championship hunt with the LA Giltinis to the same level as the trophy triumphs he pursued in Australia, France, and Japan. His hunger to keep pushing himself and his teammates to the highest standards is one reason why his career glows with six elite trophies in Australia (Brumbies), France (Toulon), and Japan (Suntory).

In the MLR Conference Finals, LA had six players on the Geico XV team. Forwards included blindside flanker Nathan den Hoedt, and No.8 Corey Thomas. Backs included scrumhalf Harrison Goddard, inside center Bill Meakes, and wings DTH Van Der Merwe and Ryan James.

Head Coach Darren Coleman will be making his final appearance with the team, as he signed a three-year deal as head coach of the NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby with the club’s blessing.

“Coleman was born and raised in NSW. His record as a proven team-builder with Shute Shield premierships in Sydney with Warringah (2017) and Gordon (2020) was a major reason he was signed by the Giltinis.”

The announcement of his leaving was made a month before the regular season ended with General Manager Adam Freier indicating that Darren “is a team-builder and a winner and those traits will continue to strongly guide the Giltinis through the final month of this season and the years ahead.”

The head coaching transition will be a smooth one with Senior Assistant Coach Stephen Hoiles taking over in 2022.

There are two changes in the starters from the Western Conference Final. Charlie Abel is the loosehead prop with JP Smith not on the roster. Angus Cottrell returns from a three-game suspension at blindside flanker with Nathan Den Hoedt moving to lock, and Luke White moving to the reserves.

In addition to an injury to JP Smith, both Adam Ashe and Glenn Bryce are also unavailable due to injury.

Rugby ATL

Rugby ATL used team defense to defeat the LA Giltinis in Marietta, Georgia. They are third in the MLR with points conceded with 330, while tied for 4th in points for with 430. The team likes to play in the opposition’s territory (54.41% vs 49.35% for LA) and is among the leaders in the breakdown with 95 turnovers created while having 71 turnover tackles. The team is one of the best scrummaging teams in the league.

The team also commits fewer handling errors 227 (9th in MLR) compared with LA’s 259 (3rd most in MLR).

Rugby ATL had three players on the Conference Finals Geico XV team. These included loosehead prop Chance Wenglewski, lock Johan Momsen and fullback Austin White.

Scott Lawrence has made five changes in the starters and another two in the reserves. Alex Maughan, who scored the lone try in the 75th minute last week, starts at loosehead prop with Chance Wenglewski moving to the reserves. Conor Keys and Vili Helu are back as starters at lock and blindside flanker with Johan Momsen moving to No.8 and Ross Deacon to the reserves.

Backs changes include Kurt Coleman, last year’s flyhalf,  who will start for the first time this season since returning from injury. Rory Van Vugt also returns on the left-wing.

There are two reserve changes with the more mobile Will Burke, replacing Manasa Saulo on the roster. Mark O’Keeffe, who has been an attacking spark plug, since he joined the team, is a center/wing.

Five of last week’s starters are in the reserves this week, and the backloading could prove decisive later in the match. In addition to Chance Wenglewski, Back rows Connor Cook and Ross Deacon, along with center Robbie Petzer, started in the Eastern Conference Final.

Also out to the matchday roster are Te Rangatira Waitokia, who had a minor injury last week. Jason Damm was acknowledged in the Rugby ATL post-match press conference as being injured, and the status of Adriaan Carelse was not confirmed. Since Carelse was a key addition at fullback or flyhalf, he is likely injured.

Squads with Player Article Links

LA Giltinis: 1 Charlie Abel 2 Mahe Vailanu 3 Marco Fepulea’i 4 Dave Dennis (C) 5 Nathan Den Hoedt 6 Angus Cottrell7 Christian Poidevin 8 Corey Thomas 9 Harrison Goddard 10 Matt Giteau 11 DTH Van Der Merwe 12 Bill Meakes 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper 14 John Ryberg 15 Luke Burton 16 Sean McNulty 17 Blake Rogers 18 Luke White 19 Sean O’Brien 20 Pago Haini 21 Serupepeli Vularika 22 Luke Carty 23 Ryan James

Rugby ATL: 1 Alex Maughan2 Marko Janse van Rensburg 3 Wikus Groenewald 4 Marno Redelinghuys 5 6 Vili HeluConnor Cook 7 Matt Heaton (cc) 8 Johan Momsen 9 Rowan Gouws 10 Kurt Coleman 11 Rory Van Vugt 12 Bautista Ezcurra 13 Ryan Nell (cc) 14 Jeremy Misailegalu 15 Austin White 16 Neethling Gericke 17 Chance Wenglewski 18 Will Burke 19 Conor Keys 20 Ross Deacon 21 Ryan Rees 22 Robbie Petzer 23 Mark O’Keeffe

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North American Rugby News With A USA Slant