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RFCLA Share Points with Old Glory on the Road

April 1, 2024 - Major League Rugby (MLR)
Rugby FC Los Angeles News Release

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles, 1-3-0, came into their fifth match of the season against Old Glory DC, 2-2-1 at Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland, looking for two wins in a row and well-rested after the bye week.

After a fierce contest with gusty winds and temperatures in the low 50s, RFCLA managed to survive five yellow cards (one red) and hold on for a draw, 22-22.

RFCLA started the first half with the wind at their backs, which hurt them in an early lineout throw which was deemed not straight. The wind would affect RFCLA fly half Dan Hollinshead's kicking game throughout the match, as several of his conversions with the wind would sail wide.

In the 5th minute, Old Glory DC was awarded a penalty inside their own 22, but RFCLA stole possession off the scrum and Hollinshead (No. 10) spun the ball out to center Jason Emery (No. 12) who was stopped in his tracks by Old Glory DC's defense. RFLCA kept possession and No. 8 Semi Kunatani offloaded the ball to Hollinshead as he was brought down. Hollinshead darted to the corner and over the line for a try, his first of the season.

RFLCA controlled the next few minutes of play in spite of a stolen lineout by Old Glory DC near the halfway line. A grubber kick by Emery took RFCLA back into Old Glory DC territory but Old Glory DC managed to clear off the attack with a kick into the wind.

"The wind is crazy," said commentator Mike Petri on the sidelines.

In the 13th minute, lock Theo Vukasinovic (No. 5), in his Major League Rugby (MLR) debut, was given a yellow card by referee Moe Chaudry for indirect head contact. He was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes.

Old Glory DC, seizing on the one-player advantage, took a lineout ball down to inside the RFCLA five-meter line, but RFLCA wing Andrew Coe (No. 14) stole a pass by Old Glory DC scrum half Ethan McVeigh (No. 9) and with the wind behind him, booted the ball upfield to deep inside Old Glory DC's 22-meter area. "What a kick from Coe, to chew up all those meters," said Petri.

With a gain of 98 meters in less than 30 seconds, flanker and captain Matt Heaton (No. 7) stole the ball from Old Glory DC and passed to Emery for the try. The wind took Hollinshead's kick wide to the left, and RFCLA led 10-0 in the 15th minute.

The wind continued to make lineouts difficult for both teams, and referee Chaudry issued several warnings about getting on top of opposing players during rucks and mauls. In the 20th minute, prop Alex Maughan (No. 3) received a yellow card, and went to the sin bin for ten minutes, leaving RFCLA down two players.

RFCLA had only kept 34 percent of possession at this point in the match, but had managed to hold 52 percent of territory. Old Glory DC had won 5 lineouts to RFCLA's 2.

In the 23rd minute, Old Glory DC took advantage of their number advantage as scrum half McVeigh went over for a try after an offload from No. 8 Lautaro Bavaro. Kicking into the wind, fly-half Jason Robertson (No. 10) converted, cutting RFCLA's lead to 10-7.

Both teams continued to kick tactically, with RFCLA winning what one commentator called "kick tennis" with the wind behind them. RFCLA took the ball past the Old Glory DC 22-meter line and following a ruck, some attempted pick n go's and a short drive by Heaton, the ball went out to Hollinshead, who pulled a dummy on his opponent but ended up receiving a big hit from Old Glory DC wing Mike Rizzo (No. 11). "Bang!" commented Petri.

Old Glory DC, still enjoying a one-player advantage, continued to take risks in the backfield with some creative plays - a long floating pass out to wing Axel Muller (No.14), but RFLCA continued to deny them the opportunity.

In the 33rd minute, Old Glory DC took advantage of a lineout win and with a strong maul, Old Glory DC flanker Cory Daniel (No.7) took the ball over the line for the try. Robertson converted the try for Old Glory's first lead of the match, 14-10.

Robertson continued to use the wind against him to his advantage with controlled kicks and a smart cross-kick to Muller on the wing, taking his team into RFCLA territory. But a penalty cost Old Glory DC, and Hollinshead was able to blast the ball back into their territory. Old Glory's defense held up with some big hits and kept RFCLA out of the try zone.

With halftime approaching, RFCLA's frustration showed again in the 40th minute when Coe tried to make a tackle off the ball and was sent to the sin bin for ten minutes and issued a yellow card. A second yellow card for Maughan, also in the 40th minute, resulted in a red card, and the prop was sent off for the rest of the match. With Coe off for several more minutes RFCLA would have to play two men short and only be able to replace Maughan 20 minutes after his foul.

RFCLA defense held strong throughout the windy match. Photo: Twitter/X


Old Glory DC started the second half with a lot of pressure and some big runs, but RFCLA's defense held tight, and in the 42nd minute, the defense stole the ball. "That's a big defensive stand," said commentator Jarom Jordan. With RFCLA rotating its lineup to make up the lost players and to ensure scrums were kept legitimate, Old Glory DC applied the pressure. But RFCLA's defense would not yield. In the 46th minute, inside center Emery took a knock and jogged off the pitch just minutes before Coe would be allowed back on. Emery would not return to the match.

RFCLA scrum-half Tas Smith (No. 9) used the wind against him with some smart chip kicks, while Hollinshead continued to go for the long strategic kicks. A maul stalemate at the halfway line was broken in the 51st minute when Old Glory DC's Muller sent a kick deep into RFLCA territory and Old Glory DC outside center William Talataina (No. 13) outpaced two RFCLA players, catching the bounce to score a try. Robertson missed the conversion but Old Glory DC led 19-10 in the 53rd minute, when scrum half Niall Saunders (No. 21) came in for Smith and Jason Damm (No. 19) came in at flanker.

RFCLA continued to commit penalties, and the commentators noted that Heaton was beginning to show his frustration with the referee. "Not much you can do if you're Heaton" Petri said, noting that Old Glory DC had now scored 19 "unanswered points." By the 54th minute, Old Glory DC had won 12 lineouts to RFCLA's 7. RFCLA had won 6 turnovers to Old Glory DC's 2.

Approaching the hydration break at the 60-minute mark, Old Glory DC's Robertson took advantage of another penalty inside RFCLA territory, kicking for the posts and giving his team a 22-10 lead.

Hollinshead wouldn't be outmatched, kicking his team past the Old Glory DC's 22-meter line in the 65th minute. Kunatani then passed to Saunders who flipped it out to substitute flanker Max Kajieko (No.20) and a few short drives by the forwards later, Damm took it over for the try. "Wow, if LA can get back into this game, after four yellow cards, wow," said Petri. Hollinshead converted into the wind and RFCLA now only trailed by 7, 22-15.

RFLCA wouldn't let up. A Saunders pass to a hard-charging Leonard brought RFCLA past the Old Glory DC 22-meter line, and Leonard's pass out to substitute back Seth Purdey (No. 22) resulted in a pass back to Saunders who took it over for the try. Hollinshead's conversion was good, and it was a 22-22 game.

RFLCA fended off several Old Glory DC advances and had a few chances of their own the referee finally blew the whistle in the 87th minute, seven minutes after the regulation 80 minutes had ended.

"At the end of the day, neither team wins and neither team loses," said commentator Jordan.

Speaking from the locker room after the match, flanker Semi Kunatani praised his teammates for their defense. "The defensive system is starting to get where we want," he said. He gave himself a humble pat on the back for "a few good carries," while admitting the obvious: it was the penalties that cost RFCLA. "As a team we defended well today," he said. "We just came up short because we had a lot of yellow cards."

"The lack of discipline" cost RFCLA the match, Kunatani said, adding that the pressure was likely the root cause.

RFCLA General Manager Mark Carney said he was proud of his players in spite of the penalties given away. "Our defensive identity is really strong," he said. "We just need to clean up on the discipline. I'm disappointed not to come away with five points (for the win) but am really proud of the guys and the effort to stay in the game."

RFCLA lock Theo Vukasinovic, who made his MLR debut against Old Glory DC, said RFCLA need to hold onto the momentum throughout their matches. "It see-sawed" against Old Glory DC, he said. "Attacking was tricky; it felt like we didn't get much momentum."

Vukasinovic received a yellow card, which he said was "frustrating." But he praised his teammates for staying in the game defensively. "It was a bit of a baptism by fire," he said of his first MLR match. "I enjoyed it."

Vukasinovic is looking forward to playing the Seattle Seawolves next. The Seawolves lead the league and Vukasinovic thinks it will be a "physical battle. "We have to to be a bit smarter, which comes from experience," he said. "We have to keep emotion out of the game and hold the opposition's momentum. Rugby is a massive game of momentum. We need to be wise and more shrewd."

GM Carney said the team had " a few injury concerns" coming out of the match but "we will overcome."

RFCLA are now 1-1-3 and face off against the league leaders Seattle Seawolves (5-0-1) on April 14 at 6 pm Pacific Time at home at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

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