The Los Angeles Giltinis played the 2021 Major League Rugby season with a target on their back.
The new kids on the block made some noise and turned some heads before they even played their first Major League Rugby match.
The team locked down some of the game’s biggest stars, held their preseason training camp in Hawaii, and called the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum home for the 2021 season. From Round 1 on, the Giltinis were the favorites to win the 2021 MLR Championship Shield.
They accomplished that mission on Sunday afternoon by defeating Rugby ATL 31-17 at the Coliseum.
The first 20 minutes of the match saw plenty of poking and prodding by both teams as they tried to get a feel for what their opponent was going to do. The first score of the match didn’t come until the 16th minute when Atlanta’s Kurt Coleman slotted a penalty goal to give Rugby ATL a 3-0 lead.
That would be Atlanta’s only lead of the afternoon, and it was a short-lived one. LA’s Matt Giteau responded with a penalty goal of his own to tie the match at three points apiece heading into the 20-minute hydration break.
For as quiet as the first 20 minutes of the match was, the second 20 minutes stretch was anything but that. The Giltinis wasted no time taking control out of the break as wing John Ryberg took an offload from Giteau right up the gut of the Atlanta defense in for the first try of the match. Giteau’s conversion gave LA a 10-3 lead, and they weren’t done scoring.
Ryberg’s number was called once more when a chip and chase busted Atlanta defense open, Adam Ashley-Cooper found a hard-charging Ryberg on the sideline and he bumped Coleman off of him on his way in for his second try of the match to give the Giltinis as 15-3 lead in the 25th minute.
Atlanta weathered the Ryberg-induced storm, they countered with a strike of their own when hooker Marko Janse van Rensburg rode a maul in for their first try of the match. Coleman’s conversion cut LA’s lead to five points heading into the half.
When it was time to finish the job, the Giltinis stepped up to the plate. They dominated the second half, and the scoreboard reflected their effort and execution.
Giteau got the second-half scoring started with a penalty goal in the 45th minute to push the lead to 18-10, and LA wing DTH van der Merwe punched in the Giltinis third try of the match 10 minutes later to extend the lead once more to 25-10 after Giteau’s conversion. They took that lead into the second hydration break and prepared to tighten the screws on a desperate Atlanta side.
The Giltinis smelled blood in the water. With the offense clicking, they ramped up the intensity on the defensive side of things. Their tenacity in the tackles and at the breakdown resulted in turnovers and prevented Atlanta from getting anything going. LA added two more penalty kicks from Giteau and Luke Burton in the 71st and 77th minute, to put the final nail in Atlanta’s coffin and take a 31-10 lead.
The resiliency of Atlanta was on full display, though, as Ross Deacon rumbled in for a try in the 79th minute to cut the Giltinis lead to 31-17 after Coleman’s conversion.
That was all she wrote, though, as the Giltinis milked what was left of the clock on the ensuing possession and kicked into touch to secure their first-ever MLR Championship Shield.
Los Angeles Giltinis
Tries: John Ryberg (2), DTH van der Merwe
Conversions: Matt Giteau (2/3)
Penalty Goals: Matt Giteau (3/3), Luke Burton (1/1)
Tries: Marko Janse van Rensburg, Ross Deacon
Conversions: Kurt Coleman (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Kurt Coleman (1/1)