Los Angeles has a professional rugby team? Meet the LA Giltinis

There is a new sporting team in Los Angeles.

No, it's not yet another NFL team relocating to the City of Angels nor another NHL or MLB franchise. The latest team to call LA home will be playing rugby union, joining the Major League Rugby [MLR] competition for its fourth season that kicks off this weekend.

Introducing the LA Giltinis.

"It's definitely not one of the premier sports, but I was lucky enough to be born into it," one of the Giltinis' American players, Nicklas Boyer, told ESPN of how his rugby journey started out. "My mum and dad both played or were around the game, they actually met at a rugby after-match function, so I guess it was kind of fate.

"But I just fell in love with it; the continuity, the contact and then I went to a school in northern California which was typically very good for rugby. So it all just worked out pretty well for me."

The Giltinis will be hoping more Americans fall in love with rugby as they push to make their mark in the crowded Californian sporting scene.

The franchise is the brainchild of Australian entrepreneur Adam Gilchrist, who is also backing fellow MLR franchise the Austin Gilgronis, and as such he has filled the fledgling outfit with Australian management, coaches, and, most importantly, talent.

Noticed a theme between those two franchise names? Gilchrist has taken some liberty with classic cocktails the 'martini' and 'negroni' and simply added the first three letters of his name instead. He has also trademarked other cocktail names the 'Gil Tai', 'Gilacolada' and 'Gilgarita'.

Australian international rugby greats Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper are the Giltinis' star recruits, while former Test player Stephen Hoiles is the assistant to coach Adam Coleman, who arrived in LA after winning Sydney's Shute Shield premiership twice in the space of four years with two different clubs.

Ashley-Cooper and Giteau may not have the speed and agility that made them key components of the Wallabies' run to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, but with more than 100 Test caps each they bring a wealth of experience that will not only inspire their teammates but has also earned the Giltinis "glamour club" status for their first season.

Ashley-Cooper had more than a year away from the game following the 2019 World Cup - when Australia were defeated in the quarterfinals - and toyed with retirement, but an opportunity to add to his European and Japanese club stints with one last hurrah Stateside was one he simply couldn't refuse.

"After the 2019 Rugby World Cup, I was kind of in a position where I could retire and obviously with the conversations around heading to Austin, I had a really good think about it," Ashley-Cooper told ESPN. "Physically I was still able to play the game, mentally I was still motivated to play the game and I thought, why not?

"I knew it would be a challenge because with 12 months off, at 36 years of age, is probably not the wisest thing to do when you're still pursuing a rugby career. But I got through that, I kept training, believe it or not, and here I am today.

"There were certainly conversations around the next chapter of my life, pursuing a job in the real world, but I just put that on hold for a little bit because of the opportunity to come to the States and play rugby in California."

Major League Rugby was forced to abandon what would have been its third season last year after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Later in 2020, the competition saw the withdrawal of the Glendale Raptors while another team, the Dallas Jackals, delayed their competition debut until 2022 in a bid to ensure the club is ready, both on the field and off it.

The Raptors' decision to withdraw was largely based around disagreements on the amount of international players making their way into the competition, that the MLR wasn't actually serving its purpose by helping to foster promising American talent that would eventually bolster the national team.

Giltinis assistant coach Stephen Hoiles understands that argument, but he says the value international players can bring to a growing rugby market like the U.S. ultimately pays dividends in the longer term.

It certainly worked in Japan, who as tournament hosts made the quarterfinals at the 2019 World Cup after the steady improvement of its national Top League, and both USA Rugby and World Rugby - the game's global stewards - will be hoping a similar story unfolds for the sport's "sleeping giant".

"Firstly, I see their point of view, if this was Australian rugby and we were allowing 12 foreigners to be on the field in every game then we'd all be up in arms, myself included. So I get that," Hoiles told ESPN.

"But I also look at the game here in its position and it's still an emerging nation, it's the sleeping giant of world rugby, we've all said it, we've all been waiting for the States to kick off. So I can understand why clubs have an issue because that club [Glendale Raptors] did a really good job in particular of producing a lot of local talent, they can probably have a right to feel a little bit peeved that other clubs are bringing in foreigners.

"But at the same time, you've got to [believe] in a competition when you can look up and in two years you can say Ma'a Nonu [New Zealand], the Beast [South African Tendai Mtawarira], Chris Robshaw [England], Cecil Africa [South Africa Sevens], Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Dave Dennis [Australia], [Joaquin] Tuculet the Argentinian fullback; all these names that are starting to pop up in the MLR and that can only be a good thing for the competition.

"And yeah you'd probably like to think in 10 years' time there's not going to be 12 foreigners allowed on the field, but in the short term I think it's an approach that will help facilitate the growth of the game here in the States."

While the Giltinis won't have crowds for their Round 1 opener against the New England Free Jacks this weekend, they are hoping that rugby fans and those not so familiar with the game will eventually be able to make the journey to the iconic LA Coliseum.

"I've heard some good things about maybe halftime shows, and obviously the venue, the Coliseum itself, will be pretty outstanding as well," Gilitinis scrum-half Boyer told ESPN.

"But there's not much going on in terms of contact sports right now, so I think this will be a great avenue for people who like that fast-paced, hard-hitting action, to come out and get some really good quality experience with contact sports and see world-class athletes perform in a sport that's not been seen in LA before.

"So I think it will be a really good chance to come and have a beer and watch some good rugby."

Boyer also has some advice for sports fans who may find rugby just a tad confusing.

"Rugby's got a lot of rules that just don't make sense at first and it's very free-flowing, very fast-paced, but I think as the casual American sports fan [watches] a game or two, and maybe reads a few online handbooks, they'll come to love it and come to appreciate the finer details of what makes the game so great.

"I think the timing of the season's amazing, it will be a good balance with football, and I think just overall it brings a new tempo to the game."

Ashley-Cooper, who scored 39 tries for Australia across his international career, says the team knows that, above all, it needs to offer fans entertainment. He says the Giltinis have therefore been working on an attractive style of rugby that hopefully has people tuning in on TV and then has the famous LA Coliseum bleachers packed, once spectators are again given the all clear in California.

"Playing an attractive game and an exciting game is really, really important," Ashley-Cooper explained. "One, because it's fun to play that style of football but it also inspires a lot of kids to play rugby, and that's something we're really keen on doing over here as well.

"As a start-up team, we want to inspire the youth and the younger generations that are considering rugby around the fringes of LA to pursue a career in rugby. So hopefully we can do that.

"Obviously first and foremost we have to get it right here; our game, our attack, our defence; all the elements that go together to put in a really good performance. So hopefully we can get that right this year, and put on a really good show for our fans."

It's often difficult to for start-up franchises to have success in their first year, but Gilitinis assistant coach Stephen Hoiles certainly hasn't moved his young family across the Pacific Ocean for the LA outfit just to make up the MLR numbers.

"You don't enter competitions to come second, so that [winning the competition] is absolutely one of our goals," he said. "But we're the new side, we're from LA, we spent the first five weeks in Maui, we're very well aware of how that's been perceived, that we're the [glamour] club...that's how it's going to be so I don't think we can shy away from that, we've got to take that front on.

"That puts a little bit more pressure on us, we know that every time we play a game everyone is going to want to knock off LA because of some of the names in our squad, the high-profile [players] and the off-field publicity this side has been getting. But we've got to be mature enough to be able to deal with that and make sure that we can rise above it.

"So we want to make this competition successful, we want to be successful in it and we want to be at the final end of the season playing for the trophy that's for sure."