Wallabies great Matt Giteau will shoot for a final trophy to end his decorated 20-year career on a high inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The three-time World Cup star has guided the Los Angeles Giltinis to the Championship final in their debut season as a Major League Rugby club in the US.
Even at 38, Giteau still has the playmaking guile, composure and silky handling touches to retire with a fairytale flourish.
The final is also a milestone for head coach Darren Coleman, who is aiming at a title before heading home to Sydney to take over as NSW Waratahs coach.
Giteau’s hunger to keep pushing himself and his teammates to the highest standards is one reason why his career already glows with six elite trophies in Australia (Brumbies), France (Toulon) and Japan (Suntory).
American rugby’s version of the Super Bowl will pit former Wallabies Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Dave Dennis and a host of Aussie compatriots against Rugby ATL in the Championship final from 6am (AEST) on Monday.
“This is as big as any one of the championship games I’ve played,” Giteau said.
“It’s because I care. When you are really invested in something you feel that way...I want to win for the group.”
Giteau was floored by a big hit and retired early from last weekend’s 17-13 win over Utah Warriors in the Western Conference final.
He has recovered well and is certain to start at No.10 in a backline that will also likely include former Melbourne Rebels centre Billy Meakes, Gordon’s 2020 premiership halfback Harrison Goddard and former Western Force utility Luke Burton.
Remarkably, the COVID-19 outbreak prolonged Giteau’s career and opened his mind to pushing himself to one final rugby frontier.
He had all but decided to retire when his final season for Suntory in Japan ended suddenly in March, 2020 when the pandemic forced Japan’s Top League season to be cancelled. He came home to Canberra and enjoyed a handful of club games for Gungahlin Eagles.
“Starting a franchise afresh, the history I have with certain players and staff at the Giltinis and the family feel to this adventure were all big things that persuaded me,” Giteau said of heading to the US.
“And I've got to live in one of the coolest cities in the world and experience it with my kids at an age when they’ll remember it.
“To be honest, I felt a bit unfulfilled with the way things ended in Japan and it made me think that just retiring because of ‘age’ was selling myself a bit short.
“Like everyone, I felt that moment in 2020 when sport was taken away (because of the pandemic) so I got excited with the LA offer and realised you are a long time retired.”
Giteau won the first of his Test caps for the Wallabies in December, 2002 when the Giltinis’ pacy Californian winger Ryan James was just three-years-old.
Giteau is thriving on the LA experience with long-time mate Ashley-Cooper and the trimmings of life in the US. Former Melbourne Rebels backrower Angus Cottrell, the joint leading try-scorer in MLR with 11, Gordon front-row duo Mahe Vailanu and Charlie Abel and Randwick pair Christian Poidevin and Nathan Den Hoedt are among the other Aussies in the squad.
“It’s been exciting all the way to see how the club has grown from not even having a gym,” Giteau said.
“The squat racks came in, a players’ lounge took shape, lockers came in.
“As players, all of us are watching the Giltinis grow and build a bit of history in LA.”
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Australian sports stars stick together. In April, Giteau took his young family to see the Los Angeles Lakers when the Utah Jazz came to town.
He’d formed a friendship with hot-handed Jazz forward-cum-Olympian Joe Ingles over several years.
Ingles organised tickets for Giteau, wife Bianca and their three kids for a game at the Staples Center. Ingles popped in five three-pointers for a win as well.
Giteau may have played 103 Tests but it doesn’t cut it with sons Levi and Kai.
The pair, and baby sister Winter, got on the Jumbotron with their Dance Cam moves at the Lakers’ game: “Now we are famous dad.” Kids!