Old Glory Aims to Upset Top Ranked Free Jacks - Preview
By: Alistair Kirsch-Poole
May 13, 2023 - 5:20pm
Tomorrow Old Glory will attempt to upset the top team in the eastern conference, the New England Free Jacks. It will be a matchup of top teams, as it's OGDC that holds the number two spot.
Old Glory has had a history of close fights with the Free Jacks. Only two of the five meetings have been decided by a double digit score, and neither was a blowout. The meeting earlier this season in Quincy was decided by just three points. The games often get chippy, too, with tempers often flaring early in the match.
The Free Jack's come into this match on cruise control at the top of the conference. They've tallied up 8 wins and have only 2 losses to their name: an early season defeat to San Diego and a close loss in Utah. Their 38 table points put them without significant contest in the East, a full nine points clear of DC in second place. Things would need to go radically wrong to see them knocked out of the playoffs.
They are also bolstered by the return of Beaudein Waaka, last year's league-wide MVP, from a stint in Japan. He isn't going to start against Old Glory, but he makes for a hell of an impact sub of the bench.
Given all that, it should be no surprise that New England are widely regarded as the favorites in this match. However, there are a number of things that should shake that assumption.
First of all, they are coming off of a bye week, something that historically hasn't been good for teams trying to maintain their momentum. We just saw what it did to Old Glory, with the team struggling against the Dallas Jackals last weekend.
Second of all, they come into this match with some significant players unavailable. This has had the biggest effect on their second row, with captain Josh Larsen injured and Jesse Parete suspended.
Third of all, Old Glory seems to really be taking this match seriously. My podcast co-host John Fitzpatrick speculated that the team might rest players in this match in order to prepare for the short turnaround for the Toronto match on Thursday. However, that has not happened at all. Instead, the coaches have gone with what looks like the strongest lineup in weeks, including the return of Tevita Naqali.
Fourth of all, there's the fact that this is a home match for Old Glory. The team is 4-1 at home, and with the front office taking steps to encourage a big turnout, this could be the largest crowd yet this season.
Finally, there's the simple fact that this match means more to Old Glory. A win here puts clear distance between them and the rest of the pack in playoff race, and even gives them a chance to challenge for the top spot. This could be a difference-maker in Old Glory's season.
All of that, combined with the fact that these two teams always play it close, gives me reason to hope for an Old Glory win. It won't be easy (the Free Jacks are top of the conference for a reason), but no one should be writing off Old Glory just yet. This should be a good one.
As stated above, this is a strong lineup for Old Glory. Iscaro, Souchon, and Stewart start in the front, a combination that worked well last week, and they are backed up by Newcomer, Gattas, and Martinez. In the locks, we will get to see a return of Tevita Naqali, who was excellent to start the season before getting injured. He's joined by Kyle Baillie in the second row.
Niko Jones will get his first cap for Old Glory starting at flanker opposite Lautaro Bavaro, with Jamason Fa'anana-Schultz returning to his more natural role at eight. They will be backed up by Langilangi Haupeakui and Collin Grosse, with the latter presumably also cover for lock. This will be the first match that Grosse hasn't started since week 3.
There are no changes in the back line, with Danny Tusitala once again the scrumhalf and John Lefevre on the bench. Gradyn Bowd and Tito Diaz Bonilla are at flyhalf and fullback respectively, but don't be surprised to see them switch roles frequently throughout the match. Thretton Palamo is at inside center and Willie Talataina is at outside center, with Junior Sa'u and Peni Lasaqa on the wings. Owen Sheehy and Marcos Young provide support off the bench.