The Lions took a squad of 26 players to New Orleans for a pre-season tour and friendly against fellow MLR hopefuls, New Orleans RFC. The squad left in the early hours of Thursday morning, flying to New Orleans before getting straight down to business and training. The squad trained for two hours, focusing on units, defense and game plan before heading to the nearby hotel for a pool recovery session. The squad assembled once again for training Thursday night where the squad focused on individual skills, ruck and restarts.
The day started with an early morning mobility session on the ground of the hotel to ease out some of the stiffness from traveling and a double training day on Thursday. Coach Dave and trainer Jacob took the players through a series of stretching routines before the players left for practice once again with 40 minutes of units work and a 40 minute captains run lead by captain Dan Coci and Vice-Captain Frikkie DeBeer. This was a fantastic session and had the squad feeling that things were starting to click. The players had another recovery session before being given the afternoon to explore the scenic streets of New Orleans and take in their surroundings before a team dinner where the management brought in some local food to a hotel conference room and ate as a group on the night before the big game.
Saturday, Game day. The team began with an earlier start or 7am having had kick-off moved back to a 12pm start. Breakfast was followed by a spotters session at the hotel which saw the players do some activation work, hand eye coordination work and walk through some of their set piece plays at a walking pace. The team then travelled in convoy to the New Orleans home ground where there was a Jersey presentation and some final words from the coaching staff before warming up and kick-off in the 78 degree heat.
The starting team for the day was: Angus McClellan, Patrick Rappleye, Frikkie DeBeer, Joe Forgy, Jonah Taylor, Thomas Kacor, Cyrus Shariff, Dave Whitney, Kevin Lydon, Robert Stortz, Brian Rooney, Luke Thiem, Dan Coci (c), Jordan Highberger and Quinn Macali.
The game got off to a disrupted start with the referee awarding multiple penalties and stoppages throughout the first half which did not allow either team to build any momentum. Both teams and some early possession and displayed huge levels of physicality with the Lions getting the better of the territory but without the final execution or patience to convert territory to points. The half time score of 9-6 to New Orleans with the Lions points coming from 3 penalties from the boot of Quinn.
After a half time team talk and some positional adjustments, the Lions came out roaring in the second half with a penalty try for a push over scrum and this was a sign of things to come. The Lions pushed on with a further 6 tries in the second half with scores coming from Frikkie, Gavin, Kevin, Stortz, Coci and Ty. The Lions played a good tempo of rugby and with increased patience through the early phases of the game plan, created opportunities to exploit New Orleans out wide, showing good continuity to finish off some impressive line breaks by the Likes of Luke, Angus, Jonah and Coci.
The second half also allowed for the Lions to utilize their bench with new recruit Andrew Rose, a Zimbabwe international coming on at flanker and a number of new recruits making their debut for the Lions such as Matt Hundley, Jonah Taylor, Mike Rassmussen, Jovan Vazquez and Phil Spagnolo. What was extremely exciting about this was the presence of three players aged 20 or younger who will surely have a huge future with the Lions after impressive performances.
The final score, 49-9 to the Lions. An impressive second half performance to score 7 tries and concede no points.
The Lions wish to thank New Orleans for a great weekend and superb hospitality throughout. It will surely be the first of many more encounters over the years to come.
The Lions now take on a strong Columbus side in Ohio on Saturday at 1pm with both sides knowing that the outcome of this game in hand can take them into the top two of the division standings.