South Africans in the spotlight as LA Giltinis win Major League Rugby final

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DTH van der Merwe of LA Giltinis on the charge. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for LA Giltinis)
DTH van der Merwe of LA Giltinis on the charge. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for LA Giltinis)

American winger John Ryberg scored two tries and South African-born Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe added another to lead the Los Angeles Giltinis to a 31-17 victory over Rugby Atlanta in Sunday's Major League Rugby final.

The Giltinis, a first-year expansion club in the 12-team North American circuit with mostly Australian talent, dominated the second half in grabbing the MLR crown at home at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

"It's going to be pretty hard to top this one," said Giltinis flyhalf Matt Giteau, an 11-year Super Rugby veteran who also spent seven years at France's Toulon.

"It's as good a feeling as I've ever had on a rugby field. It has been a hell of a journey and a heck of a year."

Seattle won the 2018 and 2019 MLR crowns while the 2020 season was wiped out by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The final was a match-up of the top MLR defensive teams and a rematch of a regular-season meeting won by host Atlanta 17-12.

"We've just tried to build a culture," Aussie standout Billy Meakes said. "To finish off with a trophy is really incredible."

Atlanta's Kurt Coleman, a South African formerly with Stormers and Southern Kings, kicked a penalty in the 16th minute but Giteau equalised in the 19th minute.

Ryberg scored tries in the 21st and 23rd minutes to put the Giltinis in command for good.

The first came on a full speed inside run up the middle after taking an offload from flyhalf Giteau on his right and racing in untouched.

The next came when Ryberg raced down the right wing, took a pass at the five-meter line and barrelled over the line for his ninth try of the season, although a Giteau conversion miss left it 15-3 for the hosts.

Atlanta's Marko Janse van Rensburg, a South African hooker, ducked over behind a maul for a try in the 36th minute and Coleman converted while Giltini fans screamed to lift the visitors within 15-10 at halftime.

Giteau kicked a penalty in the fifth minute of the second half for an 18-10 Giltinis' advantage.

Van der Merwe, a long-time Glasgow standout, scored in the 54th minute to lift the Giltinis ahead 25-10.

Giteau added another penalty in the 71st minute and a final penalty kick in the 77th.

Atlanta's Ross Deacon added a try in the 79th minute for a late consolation.

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