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Monday Morning Fly Half: The Ingredients of a Giltini

                                                         


After seven weeks of Major League Rugby’s 2021 season, one thing has become undeniable. It turns out the Giltini, a previously undiscovered cocktail (at least on these shores), is quite potent. But what are the ingredients? As Los Angeles sit atop the table with an unblemished record, it’s time to take a look at the mix that has produced such a stiff drink.

Four Parts Speed

Even a rugby novice watching LA for the first time would inevitably register one thing: they play fast. It begins with scrum half Harrison Goddard. He is quick to recycle the ball phase after phase, pressuring the opposing defense and forcing them to get back into shape at high speed. If a defense isn’t up and ready to play at the opening whistle, it can cause shock. Over an 80 minute contest, that kind of pressure wears down a defense and creates holes.

The Giltinis have mastered the quick ball attack. And it goes beyond Goddard. His reliable rapidity allows his attack lines to come in at speed so that defenses not only are scrambling back into shape but are being met with attacking runners at full speed as soon as they look up.

This type of play has risks. Primarily, it is difficult to execute. It requires a tremendous amount of fitness for the attack. The odds of mishandling go up as everything is done at full speed and often at close distance. 

But LA seem to have largely mitigated these risks. And when they have it working, which is most of the time, MLR defenses simply cannot stop it.

Two Parts Support Lines

As if speed wasn’t enough, LA are also bringing very well-designed attacks to bear. In a simple attacking pod, one might find a lead runner taking point with a support runner on either side. Most often, those support runners will be there to get into the ruck when the ball carrier is tackled. Maybe they’ll get a cheeky quick pass just before the runner reaches the defender, hoping to exploit a gap opened as defenders close in to meet the ball carrier. The vast majority of MLR attacking pods are built in this way.

The Giltinis do something more complex. 

Firstly, most of their pods also have a pull back option. Instead of going into contact, a pod can usually take a few hard steps and then pop the ball back to be distributed to a pod farther down the line. Doing this achieves an important objective. It locks a group of defenders into place, prepared to tackle the ball carrier who is charging the line. Now, as the ball moves wider, those defenders are effectively removed from the play. 

Secondly, they use inside support lines effectively to both keep the defense honest and then burn it when it is not. Instead of simple off-shoulder lines, the support runner in these pods on the inside (e.g., back in the direction from which the pass just came) is running at more threatening angles, designed for attack rather than ruck support. 

Combined, these two additions to the “basic” attacking pod force defenses to play extremely honest. Any cheating at all is quickly exposed. And when the attack plays as fast as it does, defenses are naturally going to want to cheat as much as possible.

And it happens all through the line up. Even the forwards, in rugby often more plodding and vanilla, for LA are part of the circus. Nathan Den Hoedt, lock, seems to have almost as many pull backs as he has carries. And JP Smith, prop, actually put down a grubber that led to a try this past week against Old Glory DC. When the forwards are putting that kind of versatility up against defenses, it is going to be a high scoring affair for LA.

A Splash of Line Out

In a league where line out execution is relatively poor, LA have theirs on lock. And that lock is Dave Dennis, who has demonstrated a dominance in line out jumping that has worked with both starting and reserve hookers as thrower.

Being able to consistently keep your line out makes your kicking game much more valuable. Conversely, inability to win your own line outs devalues your kick game. And most teams in MLR 2021 are suffering from a line out devaluation. Not LA.

Star Power as Garnish

It doesn’t hurt that international stars like Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and DTH van der Merwe are kitting up for LA. These individual play makers are spark plugs, that can make things happen with just a little bit of space and just a small window for a pass. Add in Giteau’s reliable kicking for sticks and you see why this team has scored 282 points this season. No other team has even 200.

Chaser

Is there anything that can take away the sting of LA? Perhaps not. For a defense to slow this attack, they will need a few attributes.

For one, they will need to be extremely fit. Anyone who has ever done “up-downs” at high school football practice knows just how exhausting it is to get up from the deck repeatedly. At the pace LA play, any defense that stands a chance will have to be prepared for 80 minutes of it.

They’re also going to need to be highly structured. Defense always has a designed shape and strategy, but as phases proceed that structure tends to break apart into a haphazard “anything goes.” Anything does not go against LA. Defenses need to keep their structure and pick up their assignments with text book accuracy to avoid being gashed with big line breaks.

Lastly, they need to do something to slow that recycle speed. Tacklers need to do their best to wrap up ball carrier arms, preventing offloads and quick ball placement. Counter rucking needs to be used opportunistically to slow Goddard down and give the defense a moment to breathe while getting back in line for another phase.

Will Anyone Finish a Giltini This Year?

I don’t know. But back-to-back road games in Austin and then Atlanta may offer the best chance.

In Other 'News'

Good weekend for the 'News'. New England, New Orelans and New York all won. New England comfortably, New Orleans impressively given the opponent (Toronto) and New York in ugly desperation. And the newewst team in the league, LA, continue to romp as per the above. Four matches, four wins for the 'newbies'.