The Good, the Bad, and the Questions - Gold Edition
By: Alistair Kirsch-Poole
Mar 30, 2023 - 5:30pm
The loss to the NOLA Gold on Saturday was frustrating, to say the least. Watching a victory slip and disappear right at the end of the match for the second time this season was a let down. However, it was also undeniably exciting to watch from the stands, and there were a lot of positives to take away from the match. Let's get into it.
The defense, when it's set, is unbending
It's now absolutely clear the sort of defense coach Syms has in mind for this team. It's an unyielding, unbending defense built around maintaining shape and making tackles. This match, we saw what it could do against a team that's been on a hot streak.
The Gold came into this match having scored 31 and 37 points in their last two matches, with 6 tries and 4 tries respectively. Old Glory held them to just 20 points and 2 tries.
Qualitatively, too, it was impressive to watch. NOLA would appear to be doing all the right things, hitting the line hard with their forwards and seeming to find space on the wings. However, after several phases it would become apparent that they weren't actually making progress, that Old Glory had held them roughly to the same spot on the pitch that they'd started at.
The lineout is a huge asset
The lineout wasn't perfect, to be sure, but most of the wounds in the past couple of weeks have been self-inflicted communication issues. Obviously, that's not great, but it's straightforwardly fixable.
The bigger picture is a lineout that works really well. NOLA has a notoriously disruptive lineout jumper in Cam Dolan, and he failed to have much impact on OGDC's throw ins. On NOLA's throw ins, meanwhile, players like Bavaro and Grosse caused headaches.
The lineout reliability, combined with an excellent maul, make for a beautiful pairing. Hopefully Old Glory will trust themselves to use it more in the coming weeks.
The attack is finding it's feet
I've been harping on Old Glory's back line to play with more structure since practically the first moment they stepped on the field, and we're finally starting to see the beginnings of that happening. They employed more deception, dummy runners, and planned offloads against NOLA than we've seen previously, and it resulted in more varied attack. It was significantly less predictable, and importantly it plays to the strengths of Tito Diaz Bonilla as a flyhalf.
There is still a long way to go, but this is the Good section of the article so I'll focus on the reasons for optimism. There is a lot of potential in the back line, and I think we're finally seeing the groundwork of how the team will exploit it. When Old Glory had their attacking shape and structure set, we finally saw how effective they can be.
The defense doesn't bend, but it does break
Structure is a running theme of this article. When in OGDC was in their defensive structure, NOLA's persistent attack struggled to gain ground and largely remained static. However, when Old Glory lost their defensive shape, whether due to a line break or a kicking battle, the defense suddenly became porous.
Both of NOLA's tries came from disrupting the OGDC defense, and there's likely more where that came from. Old Glory has matches against San Diego, New York, and Utah coming up in the next several weeks, all teams that can very much exploit broken play. If the team can't figure out how to maintain their shape in difficult situations, they could be in for a rough time.
The attacking structure is prone to collapse
Similar to the defense, the attack struggled when Old Glory didn't have their shape set. Early in possessions, they did a good job of maintaining their attacking structure, but after a disruptive tackle or when they were near the goal line, that structure tended to fall apart. That led to individual players trying to make something happen on their own, usually because there was no one around for them to pass to. This structural collapse is what lost the match, with the team losing its shape right near the goal line in its last chance to score the winning try. Because they had no shape, the passes started to be missed and eventually the ball was knocked on.
Maintaining structure will be key to getting this team scoring and finishing opportunities. They need rely on their structure to do more for them, because a good structure can open holes and get players into space. And, critically, they need to rely on it all the way through to the end. If they lose patience in the final moments, just before scoring or at the end of a match, it undoes the good work they did in the lead up.
The team ran out of steam
Likely a contributing factor to Old Glory's inability to maintain their structures at the end of the match seemed to be fatigue. It's clear that the team has an ethos of putting in hard work every minute of the game, and that can wear players out by the end of the match. Against NOLA, the players certainly seemed exhausted by the time the final whistle blew.
That will need to get better. In a tight eastern conference, there won't be room for flagging at the end of matches. The team needs to be able to play for the full eighty minutes, and play in their structures and in their game plan. They can't afford to get sloppy at the end.
Old Glory has earned it's spot in the playoff discussion, but will they make it?
Old Glory has one bad loss, which from where we're sitting now looks a lot more like early season jitters than a reason to be concerned. Since then, they have a dominant win over Toronto and narrow losses to the top two teams in the East. For their troubles, Old Glory is ranked third, with a game in hand over one of the teams above them.
It's clear that Old Glory has a place in the playoff discussion. They have the capacity to beat anyone, and even the best teams in the conference have survived against them as much by luck as judgement.
All that leaves is the question of whether Old Glory will actually make the playoffs. My computer model, the C&P, currently has the odds at 71%, but it also gives better than 50-50 odds to New York and Atlanta. NOLA, too, is better than my model has accounted for, so the race is very much on.
Old Glory has four more weeks until their second bye week, and those weeks will be absolutely crucial in forging OGDC's destiny. They start with a difficult match against San Diego, followed by must-win in-conference matches against Atlanta and New York, before closing with a potentially tricky match against Utah. Coming out with a winning record in these matches would go a long way toward securing a playoff spot for Old Glory. Anything less, and things could get dicey.
What does the lineup look like with new additions incoming?
Old Glory has had a fairly settled lineup the last few weeks, with Syms obviously having found the guys he trusts. However, with a new player joining the squad in Kyle Baillie and a couple more players rumored to be in the pipeline, that could be about to change.
How much will Syms want to mess with a team that's just starting to click? So far, he's favored disruption and competition, which is why young guys like Grosse have gotten a chance to seize starting spots. At some point, though, there's a value to continuity. So Syms has a choice to make: continuity or competition?
When will the scrum really become an advantage?
So far, despite having current Eagle Jack Iscaro and Argentine international Ramiro Herrera in the front row, Old Glory has struggled to turn the scrum into a real advantage. The scrums aren't bad, to be sure, but there hasn't been the sort of consistent pressure that you'd expect given the quality of props that OGDC is putting on the field. The potential of this front row to be dominant has shown through at points, and we've had enough of a glimpse to see that there is a ton of promise.
So why isn't the scrum machine clicking into a monster feared across the league? That's a question for someone more well-versed in the dark arts of the scrum than I am. All I can hope is that someone figures it out, because right now it feels like we're leaving potential on the field.