Hawaiian Gardens native shines for the Giltinis, Los Angeles’ professional rugby team

LOS ANGELES (KABC) – If you’re not aware Los Angeles has a professional rugby team, it’s time to get to know the Giltinis, named after a premium cocktail.

The team plays at the LA Memorial Coliseum and launched during the pandemic, winning the Major League Rugby championship in its first season.

Yes, there’s rugby superstars from around the world on the team. There’s also homegrown talent like 25-year-old Cristian Rodriguez, who grew up in Hawaiian Gardens in southeast LA

“It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true. You would never imagine it. I would never have been able to guess that this would happen when I was growing up,” Rodriguez said. “As an American, you don’t play this game for the money, you play it because you love it.”

Believe it or not, Rodriguez was introduced to rugby growing up in LA, and he credits the sport with keeping him out of trouble.

“There’s a program in my city called Alternatives to Gang Membership, and that program does rugby for kids in the neighborhood,” he explained. “The idea is to get kids off the streets, at-risk youth, just be together and be busy. “

“Roddy has been incredible. Great kid. Well brought up. And you don’t look at what he’s doing on the field, it’s off the field and in the community where he excels,” said Adam Freier, general manager of the LA Giltinis.

Freier says rugby is the third biggest sport in the world, and it’s popularity is taking off in the United States, including in LA where the Olympic sport will be on full display at the 2028 games.

“It’s got the football elements, but just no helmets and pads, and the one thing about rugby which differs from football, not to say the NFL doesn’t have values, but things like calling the referee ‘sir,’ shaking hands with the opposition, clapping them off – it’s a very traditional wholesome sport, “Freier said.

To continue growing rugby in LA, the Giltinis have launched an under-16 program to develop local talent through their academy.

The Giltinis next game is Saturday at 3 pm at the Coliseum. For more information, you can visit the team’s website, giltinis.com.

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