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 Rugby FC Los Angeles

Heaton to Captain RFCLA against Old Glory DC

April 5, 2024 - Major League Rugby (MLR)
Rugby FC Los Angeles News Release


Rugby Football Club Los Angeles (RFCLA) have announced their starting line-up for the match against Old Glory DC on April 6, 2024 at 5pm Eastern Time, at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland.

Coming off a bye week following their first victory of the season, a 19-18 win over the Utah Warriors, RFCLA will be looking to improve on their 4-3 historical record against Old Glory DC while also improving their standing in the Western Conference. RFCLA are currently at the bottom of the conference, tied with Utah with one win and three losses; Old Glory DC are third in the Eastern Conference with two wins, two losses and a draw.

RFCLA flanker Matt Heaton (No. 7) says fans can look forward to a good defensive battle. Heaton is ranked third in Major League Rugby (MLR) in terms of tackles, with 69, trailing No. 2 Old Glory DC back row player Cory Daniel by just three tackles. "It's funny, my wife and I, we love this," Heaton said. "The MLR is tracking the tackling stats. Every week I look and see where [Cory and I) size up."

Old Glory DC will be down one big tackler this week as Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz is currently serving a suspension for tackling Billy Meakes of the Chicago Hounds while he was in the air on March 16.

Rugby leagues all over the world have been cracking down on dangerous high tackles in recent years, and Heaton is in favor of a new mouthpiece adopted last year by the official rugby governing body, World Rugby. The mouthpiece measures the G-force of every head impact in real-time, and allows coaches and referees to determine whether a player needs an immediate evaluation. "I think [MLR] has taken a step in the right direction this year [with] the mouthpieces," Heaton said, adding that he always tackles "low" because of how he learned to play the sport.

Against Old Glory DC, Heaton knows success will depend on more than just his tackling. "I'm much more of a defensive No. 7," he said. "I'll make the tackles. I'll do the dirty work to let everybody else play the game." He's hoping fans will get a taste of flanker Semi Kunatani's offloading skills - passing while being tackled - which he calls "Fijian magic." He praised RFCLA's "powerful ball carriers" - back row forwards Jason Damm and Mike Amiris in particular - as well as the team's "faster, more dynamic ball carriers," out in the back line.

Originally from Godmanchester, Quebec, the 6'2 224 lbs Heaton didn't start playing rugby until high school. He then played in Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as for the Canadian national team in 2019, before making his way to pro rugby in the United States, where he signed with Rugby ATL.

Heaton has had no trouble settling into LA since the team relocated in 2023, and is enjoying getting to know the rugby community in the city and nationwide. This week, ahead of the match against Old Glory DC, RFCLA hosted a visiting team from Fordham Preparatory School in New York. Heaton and his teammates have checked out some local matches (recently, Eagle Rock Rugby Club vs LA Rugby Club, which was created in 1958 and is not to be confused with RFCLA.) They've also scrimmaged against Belmont Shore RFC from nearby Long Beach and provided mentoring to club players who have asked for it.

Heaton is excited about the development of rugby in the US, as well as the growing community. "The infrastructure is here," he said. "It just really takes the right people and then just the exposure."

RFCLA have been working on several key elements of their game since the victory over Utah. They gave up several penalties late in the game that narrowed their lead, and Heaton put that down to bad positioning - "we just had a few guys in the wrong spot at the wrong time" - and tiredness. Utah kept the ball in play longer than RFCLA had hoped, recycling the ball through various phases rather than committing an error and returning to a set piece like a line-out or scrum. As a result, Heaton said, he and his teammates lost their composure on occasion. "You're defending 10-15 phases and somebody gets tired and he gives away a penalty," he said. "It's frustrating but that's the way the game goes."

Heaton said RFCLA has made some improvements and worked on their self-discipline since Utah, and that the team continues to get better at this every week.

RFCLA has made some changes to their starting XV this week: Dane Zander comes in at No. 1 (loosehead prop) for Conor Young as Alex Maughan moves to No.3 (tighthead prop); Theo Vukasinovic replaces Jurie Van Vuuren at lock (No. 5); Mike Amiras comes in at flanker (No. 6) while Semi Kunatani moves to No. 8 (Jason Damm is a reserve); Tas Smith replaces Niall Saunders at scrum-half (No. 9); Jason Emery is back at inside center (No. 12) after recovering from a minor injury, replacing James Stokes, and Rory Van Vugt is in at full-back (No. 15), replacing Austin White.

RFCLA's starting lineup for April 6, 2024, against Old Glory DC.

1. Dane Zander (Prop)

2. Bruce Kaukia-Peterson (Hooker)

3. Alex Maughan (Prop)

4. Reagan O'Gorman (Lock)

5. Theo Vukasinovic (Lock)

6. Mike Amiras (Flanker)

7. Matt Heaton (Flanker)

8. Semi Kunatani (No.8)

9. Tas Smith (Scrum Half)

10. Dan Hollinshead (Fly Half)

11. Jack Shaw (Wing)

12. Jason Emery (Inside Center)

13. Will Leonard (Outside Center)

14. Andrew Coe (Wing)

15. Rory Van Vugt (Full-back)

Reserves:

16. Ben Strang (Hooker)

17. Lincoln Sii (Prop)

18. Conor Young (Prop)

19. Jason Damm (Flanker)

20. Max Katjijeko (Flanker)

21.. Niall Saunders (Scrum Half)

22. Seth Purdey (Center)

23. Austin White (Full-back)

RFCLA's match on Saturday, April 6, will be streamed LIVE starting at 2:00 pm Pacific Time (5 pm Eastern) on Bally Sports West and The Rugby Network

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