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Emery To Lead RFCLA Backs Against Houston

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1 week ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles have announced the starting line-up for their match against the Houston Sabercats in Week 16 of the 2024 Major League Rugby season on June 8, kicking off at SaberCats Stadium in Houston at 7 p.m. (5 pm PST).

Following a 45-15 victory over the Miami Sharks at home last week, RFCLA are looking to defeat the league-leading Sabercats and improve their playoff chances. RFCLA are only six points away from the fourth-place playoff spot in MLR’s Western Conference, with four matches remaining and 16 points to play for (as well as 4 bonus points if they score 4 tries each match). The Sabercats are 25 points ahead of RFCLA, leading the conference. They beat RFCLA 27-12 in the second week of this season.

Jason Emery will be starting at fly-half (No. 10) this week, following a stellar performance against the Sharks; he converted five tries and kicked a penalty for a total of 13 points, carried the ball for 40 meters and made 12 tackles, earning himself a spot in MLR’s First XV roster, a selection of top players compiled each week. Lock Reegan O’Gorman (No. 5), forward Semi Kunatani and wing Andrew Coe (No. 14) also made the selection, and RFCLA was voted team of the week. Kunatani leads the MLR in ball carries with 126 (forward Jason Damm is third with 111) and is in the top ten with over 700 meters gained, giving him an average of 5.5 meters per carry.

Emery said the Sabercats can expect the same RFCLA team that defeated Miami to show up this week. “We’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “They’re the top team, we respect them, but we want to ride the wave from Miami.” The Sabercats can expect a bruising game, as RFCLA has three of MLR’s top ten tacklers: Damm with 150 tackles, flanker Matt Heaton (No. 7) with 136 and hooker Ben Strang (No. 2) with 131. The Sabercats had two players named in the MLR selection last week: prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth and full-back Drew Wild.

Emery, who is 5’ 9” and 200 lbs, was born in Tauranga, New Zealand on Sept. 21, 1993. He started playing rugby seriously at about 8 years old when he moved to Wellington. He played for the New Zealand under-20s national side, the Highlanders of Super Rugby, the Manawatu Turbos, the Munakata Sanix Blues in Japan, and the Maori All-Blacks before signing with Rugby United New York for the 2022 season.

Emery, 30, is now in Los Angeles, and loving it. “We’ve all come in from outside to try to grow something,” he said. He’s been just as happy continuing to play with Andrew Coe and Brooklyn Hardaker, who he was teammates with in New York, as he has been establishing relationships with his new teammates. “I get on with everyone. The whole team’s been great,” he said.

Emery played with the 2016 Maori All-Blacks side that defeated the USA Eagles at Chicago’s Soldier Field 54-7. He’s been impressed with the growth and evolution of US rugby since, especially at the junior level. “I couldn’t believe how many kids are playing rugby,” he said. “I felt like I was back in New Zealand.” RFCLA has launched its own local academy, which aims to develop the sport through “extensive collaboration with local clubs, coaches & players at the youth, college & club levels.” (For more information, go to https://rugbyfcla.com/academy)

Emery loves this aspect of US rugby. “The thing I love about the American boys is they keep asking questions until they get it,” he said. “And they get it pretty quickly.” The rugby instincts, which tend to develop early in New Zealand because kids start playing very young, are “coming through” in the US, Emery said. “You grow these skills and it becomes instinct.”

RFCLA’s backs have had to rely on those instincts with a lot of rotational changes in recent weeks. Emery found himself playing fly-half last week, with starting No. 10 Tas Smith replacing Niall Saunders at scrum-half. Everything went fine, Emery said, because he was initially trained as a fly-half and Smith was trained as a scrum-half. RFCLA’s backs have shown they are capable of rotating for any reason, and with the recent signing of Fiji-born Australian wing Henry Speight, they’ll be able to improve on their open style of play.

RFCLA Head Coach Steve Brett “took the shackles off and told us to play,” said Emery of this strategy. “[He said] if there’s an overlap, just take it and run. You don’t really get that much from coaches. Our coaches just want us to play, which is great. We’re a freestyle type team.”

“Without giving too many secrets away, we’ll take that mindset to Houston,” Emery said.

RFCLA have made some changes to their starting XV this week: Bruce Kauika-Peterson replaces flanker Mike Amiras (No. 6); Tas Smith starts instead of Niall Saunders at scrum-half (No. 9); Jason Emery starts at fly-half (No. 10) and Brooklyn Hardaker takes his place at inside center (No. 12).

RFCLA’s starting lineup for June 8, 2024, against the Houston Sabercats:

1. Dane Zander (Prop)

2. Ben Strang (Hooker)

3. Alex Maughan (Prop)

4. Jason Damm (Lock)

5. Reegan O’Gorman (Lock)

6. Bruce Kauika-Peterson (Flanker)

7. Matt Heaton (Flanker/Captain)

8. Semi Kunatani (No. 8)

9. Tas Smith (Scrum-half)

10. Jason Emery (Fly-Half)

11. Jack Shaw (Wing)

12. Brooklyn Hardaker (Inside Center)

13. Will Leonard (Outside Center)

14. Andrew Coe (Wing)

15. James Stokes (Full-back)

Reserves:

16. Wilton Rebolo (Prop)

17. Alessandro Heaney (Prop)

18. Conor Young (Prop)

19. Bruce Yun (Flanker)

20. Max Katjijeko (Flanker)

21. Cristian Rodriguez (Back)

22. Henry Speight (Back)

23. Rory Van Vugt (Back)

Saturday’s match will be televised live on Fox Sports 2 and streamed live outside the US on the Rugby Network from 5 pm PST.

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