Dave Dennis Talks Giltinis, Building the New Squad and Growing the Game
In his 14-year professional playing career, LA's Dave Dennis has made a habit of winning. Playing for the New South Wales Waratahs for ten seasons in Super Rugby, Dennis was forced to watch on while injured in 2014 as his teammates won the competition.
Returning from injury the following year, Dennis left Australian shores to represent Exeter Chiefs in the English Premiership. Spending four seasons in Devon, the versatile forward lifted four trophies as the club established themselves at the very top of European club rugby.
Leaving the side at the end of a 2019/20 season where he and his Exeter teammates won both the Champions Cup and English Premiership, the 18-cap Wallaby is now hoping to bring some of that winning mentality to one of Major League Rugby's newest sides.
"My four years in Exeter are probably where I learnt the most about the game," Dennis told MLR. "How the game could be played, how you win games and particularly around forward play.
"If anyone has seen how Exeter play with the forwards, their set-piece is very consistent and dominant, and they often win games as a team through the way that the forwards play.
"So, I learnt a heap and I'm not ashamed to say that I'll probably steal a few ideas and take them with me to LA because it is effective, and I think I can implement a few of those ideas with some of the American lads and some of the foreign lads that are over there. If we get it into our game plan, it can be really effective and win us games, so why not?"
Dennis was the first international star to have been brought in by the Giltinis ahead of their debut season in MLR. Since announcing the signing of the 34-year-old, there have been numerous more international players to have pledged their allegiance to the side based out of Venice Beach.
Fellow Australians Bill Meakes, Angus Cottrell, Charlie Abel, Mahe Vailanu, Harrison Goddard, Lindsay Stevens, Christian Poidevin, Nathan den Hoedt, former Colorado Raptor Luke White and the Canada-qualified Corey Thomas will each be pulling on a white shirt for the 2021 MLR season, South African twins, JP and Ruan Smith also arriving from Australia, having most recently represented the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby.
Sean McNulty will join his third MLR team, having previously represented both Rugby United New York and the New England Free Jacks, and will bring along his brother, Harry, who has been representing the Ireland Sevens program for the past five years, their countryman Luke Carty also making his way to the West Coast.
One of the headline-making signings this offseason has been that of former Canada wing DTH van der Merwe. Having scored a record 38 tries for his country over 13 years, arriving back in North America having won two PRO12 title's and setting the try record at Glasgow Warriors, with his former Glasgow teammates Adam Ashe and Glenn Bryce following him to LA.
While professional rugby experience has been brought in from overseas, much of Darren Coleman's squad will be made up of domestic US and Canadian players such as: Luke White, John Ryberg, Blake Rogers, Nick Boyer and Mika Kruse, who are arriving from Colorado as part of the MLR Expansion Draft, that allowed various members of the Raptors to carry on playing professional rugby with new sides LA and Dallas, before the Texans decided to postpone their involvement in MLR until 2022.
For Rogers, Boyer and Kruse, their move to the Giltinis is a move home. Rogers hails from Coulsa, Boyer from Sacramento and Kruse from Fresno, those three players acquired from Colorado offering a wealth of experience from time already spent playing in MLR.
They will be supported by a number of players who have made their names playing rugby in California over the years. Mafi Seanoa and Vise Leasi are both formerly of Belmont Shore, Golden Gate Rugby Club men Jeffrey Peleseuma and lock Luca Tani will join up with the Giltinis, as will San Mateo-native Langilangi Haupeakui and former San Diego prop Sione Tuihalamaka. Draft pick Watson Filikitonga is locked in following his time at Iona College too and was the first player signed by LA.
"We have got a few older guys from around the world that have had a bit of experience, which is important, but supporting that is the local talent," Dennis said. "I am really excited about seeing some of the guys and watching them develop.
"Some of them have only been playing the game for three, four years, so their potential is enormous. if they can get into an environment where they are regularly trained three or four times a week in a really good program and they are competing each weekend in a really competitive league, their own game will go so far, and our team will improve, and I think that is really important and also give that connection to the community.
"I have already seen with some of the boys who have signed, what it means to them to play for their home city. A lot of these guys are born and bred in Los Angeles and they will have family as supporters and that will grow our fanbase naturally. I think it is going to be a really good mix and over time, as the Giltinis get older and older as a club, we have only got one or two international guys and a lot of your talent is homegrown."
As much as Dennis is coming to LA in order to offer an immense amount of experience to the forward pack, he will also be joining the team's Youth and Development team where he will be coaching a new generation of Giltinis and even potentially some Eagles.
Starting his coaching journey with LA, Dennis will be able to draw on some fine experience.
Kevin Battle has run the Santa Barbara Rugby Academy since 2009 and for the past eight years has served as Commissioner at USA Rugby, College D1-A.
Former New Zealand 7's man Orene Ai'i arrives at the Giltinis door to serve as Skills Coach having spent the past six years in LA. Having worked on various youth development programs across California and has already had an influence in the recruitment of Peleseuma and Tani.
Former England prop, Alex Corbisiero brings his huge amount of international experience to coaching the Giltinis scrum, having already performed the same role for UCLA, while Australians Darren Coleman and Stephan Hoiles will lead the group as Head Coach and Assistant Coach respectively, Coleman having recently coached Gordon to their first Shute Shield title in 22 years in Australia and Hoiles having served a similar role with the Australian Men's 7's team.
"I want to try and help young kids," Dennis said. "I have probably only got a couple more years left to play and that is probably the area that I want to get into moving forward and when I finish rugby, I really like the idea of helping young kids and developing the game.
"I think it will be a real challenge, meeting some young kids in California that may never even heard of the game and trying to get them to fall in love with it, as I did as a young kid. Hopefully I can leave a bit of an impression with some young kids and see some youth push on and play in MLR or play for the Eagles."
Learn more about the LA Giltinis by visiting their website or following them on Twitter and Instagram.
Written by MLR Correspondent Joe Harvey
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Major League Rugby Stories from January 26, 2021
- Dave Dennis Talks Giltinis, Building the New Squad and Growing the Game - Austin Gilgronis
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