By Terrance Turner
August 1, 2021
Today, the LA Giltinis and Atlanta battled it out for the Major League Rugby (mLR) championship. Inside the Los Angeles Coliseum, both teams fought a tough, physical match for the prize. The Giltinis, in their first-ever season, dominated today’s match with high-powered offense to win their first-ever championship.
A quick primer: rugby is a game that originated in England. It is a game played by two teams of 15 players each, using an oblong ball. The ball can be passed backwards or sideways, but never forwards. Points can be scored when a player reaches the end-zone for a try (worth 5 points). If the try is scored between the goal posts, it is worth 7 points. After a try is scored, a goal kick can add 2 points. A penalty kick is worth 3.
Play stoppages can be solved one of two ways, according to USA Rugby:
- Scrum: Each team’s forwards bind together and connect with an opposing team’s forwards. The ball is thrown into the middle of the tunnel, and both teams try to use their feet to move the ball so they can gain possession.
- Lineout: After a ball goes out of bounds, forwards assemble in a line on each side where one team’s hooker throws the ball straight in the middle. Each team uses various formations to lift players up, retrieve the ball and put it back in play.
Both teams took some time to score, with stifling defense by each. A knock-on led to a scrum. Then Atlanta scored on a penalty kick. Minutes later, L.A. got a penalty kick of its own, tying the game 3-3.
Out of nowhere L.A.’s John Ryberg took off, streaking down the field to score. The goal kick was good, making it 10-3. But just two minutes later, LA player Adam-Ashley Cooper broke free and threw the ball to Ryberg, who dove towards the goal line for another try. The goal kick didn’t go, so the score held at 15-3.
LA dominated for most of the first half. But 35 minutes in, Atlanta scored on a team effort. That was followed by a successful goal kick. It was 15-10 at halftime.
In the second half, LA added another three points after a kick. Later, the Giltinis appraoched the try line. again. A successful passing volley paved the way for a try by DTH van der Merwe. (Daniel Tailliferre Hauman van der Merwe is a South African-Canadian rugby player.) 55 minutes into the game, the Giltinis led 25-10.
That score lingered into the 69th minutes. Atlanta was unable to generate any offense against LA’s stout defense. Their struggles led to a penalty kick from LA. Giltinis flyhalf Matt Giteau made the successful kick. That made it 28-10 with just 10 minutes left.
The crowd erupted minutes later, when Giteau left the field. He hugged teammates as he exited. By then, the game was all but over. Atlanta managed a consolation try near the end of the match. But LA answered with some points of its own, scoring yet another kick courtesy of flyhalf Luke Burton. The LA Giltinis won the MLR Championship, 31-17.
Matt Giteau was named “Man of the Match” for his performance. “It’s been a hell of a journey and a great year,” Giteau said after the match. At 38, he may retire from rugby after this match; he was already all but retired when he got the call to join the LA team. But he was noncommittal about his future with the team. Giteau said it was too difficult to say, as he was experiencing too many emotions.
What had contributed to this first-year team’s success?
“For me, it’s all about culture. From day 1, we’ve tried to build a culture where it’s all built around trust, vulnerability, honesty, and players just being themselves,” said center Billy Meakes.