Giltinis take down Gilgronis in epic Austin encounter
It was more gritty than pretty but the LA Giltinis defended superbly to claim a 17-3 victory over the Austin Gilgronis in the top-of-the-table Major League Rugby clash at Austin’s Bold Stadium.
The Giltinis sit atop the MLR standings at 8-1 thanks largely to having the No.1 attack in the competition but this win of character was all about their less-hyped defensive qualities.
The under-rated defence was the hero in this arm wrestle that was befitting a clash between the two highest-ranked sides. It was finals-like rugby come early as no quarter was given in the slugfest.
The Giltinis absorbed a mountain of pressure and tackled themselves to a standstill while tryless AG Rugby slipped to 5-4 after being unable to crack the resolute black and pink defensive wall.
The Giltinis allowed no linebreaks and missed just seven tackles across the 80 minutes.
The Giltinis hit hard and hit often and they needed to after their trademark flowing attack had a muted night which forced LA to find another way to win.
A try either side of halftime and two conversions and a late penalty goal from flyhalf Matt Giteau were enough to get the Giltinis home.
“I’m really proud of our grit and character around defence to win what was our third game in just 11 days,” head coach Darren Coleman said.
“(Opposition coach) Sam Harris had their defence working really well so there was nothing easy out there. There were lots of hits and it was very physical.”
Giteau missed the first training session of the week with knee soreness. It was a huge effort to play nearly 80 minutes as ringmaster.
“There were a lot of heroes to be honest with the spirit we played with in front of a hostile crowd. Adam Ashley-Cooper won our team best-and-bravest award. The guy is 37 and played just about every minute of these three games in 11 days,” Coleman said.
“(Prop) Charlie Abel and (flanker) Angus Cottrell were two others. Charlie has been a colossus and was getting better in the final 20 minutes with double efforts.
“DTH (van der Merwe) and Billy Meakes were always dangerous when they carried.”
Going so strongly to full-time owes great credit to the job being done by head of athletic performance Mick Stephen who prepared the side for the physical load.
The Giltinis extended their 7-3 half-time lead early in the second half with winger John Ryberg both starting and finishing the profitable push down field.
Ryberg’s raking touch finder, with a quirky bounce at the end, put the Giltinis deep into AG Rugby territory to put the home side under intense pressure.
Blindside flanker Cottrell executed a textbook pick-and-drive down the middle of a breakdown to find space and then popped a perfect pass to the rampaging Ryberg who crashed over for the try.
Giltinis hooker Lindsey Stevens crossed for the only try of the first 40 minutes.
With the Giltinis on the front foot, the ball squeezed loose from a ruck and Stevens swooped on it, spun and dived under the AG Rugby defence to get the visitors on the board in the 17th minute.
Stevens was in the thick of the action soon after when the Giltinis produced a trick play from a lineout only for the hooker to drop the ball with the tryline begging.
Stevens – who originally hails from Texas – was not alone when it came to handling errors in the first half as the Giltinis also failed to cash-in on a number of attacking lineouts.
The Giltinis were uncharacteristically guilty of dropping the ball in promising field positions in the opening 40 minutes while some wayward kicking in general play also handed possession to AG Rugby.
But the Giltinis defence was nothing short of outstanding in repelling wave after wave of AG Rugby attack with box kicks from halfback Ruben De Haas driving his side forward.
The home side camped inside its attacking 22 on three occasions in the first half with multiple phases pounding the Giltinis defensive line only for Nathan Den Hoedt and Cottrell to produce timely turnovers at the breakdown for the besieged LA.
The visitors staunchly held firm every time with AG Rugby hooker Hugh Roach held up over the line late in the first half after peeling off a dangerous rolling maul.
The home side had to settle for a penalty goal to AG Rugby flyhalf Mack Mason to get them on the scoreboard.
LA GILTINIS 17
Tries: Lindsey Stevens (17 min), John Ryberg (48)
Conversions: Matt Giteau (17, 49)
Penalty goal: Matt Giteau (80)
AUSTIN GILGRONIS 3
Penalty goal: Mack Mason (36)
Half-time: Giltinis 7-3
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