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2021 Back of the Year Billy Meakes Talks LA and that Winning Relief

Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by Brian Jackson

Billy Meakes and the LA Giltinis’ first season in Major League Rugby couldn’t have gone much better. Ending with a shield lift at the team’s LA Coliseum home, Meakes also earned the Back of the Year Award for 2021. 

Making 12 appearances for Darren Coleman’s team, the center made 76 tackles and won eight turnovers on the way to a maiden title. 

Photo by Brian Jackson

After scoring two tries and carrying for 870 meters with the ball in hand, the 30-year-old took some time to reflect on the 2021 season and his individual recognition with majorleague.rugby, starting with how he found out he had won the award.

“I actually found out in a way I probably wasn’t supposed to,” the New South Wales native began. “I got invited onto a podcast, didn’t really have much of a chit chat before, we went live and it was like; ‘we now welcome Billy Meakes, the 2021 MLR Back of the Year’.

“It was the week later that it actually got announced, I already knew, but everyone was still congratulating me congratulations because I didn’t want to say anything. 

“It is amazing to get recognized for something that you don’t set out to try and do, but when you take a moment to realize, it is a really cool thing to have achieved on top of winning the competition.

“It was really pleasing, because it was a goal of mine that no one else was really aware of. I told my partner, Michelle, right when I first signed, that I was coming over here not just to take part, but to excel and really stamp my authority on the competition.”

LEARNING LESSONS 

Losing four games in the regular season, it was hardly plain sailing for the Giltinis as they won their first MLR title. 

Photo by Brian Jackson

The team’ first loss at the hands of Rugby United New York came after six back-to-back victories, however it was the loss three rounds later that provided the team with their biggest lesson of the year.

It was a loss that provided the group with a moment to reflect and adapt to the realization that their star-studded lineup, that included the likes of Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, and Dave Dennis, was beatable.

“I think the Atlanta game was a real wake-up call for a lot of us because we had a full-strength team, we felt good going into the game and got dusted up,” Meakes said. 

“We got outplayed physically and they outplayed us in the kicking game, and they just wanted it more. To go into a game feeling good and then coming away with that outcome was a big wake-up call and probably something we needed.

“That was the moment where I thought if we were going to win this thing, then we had to work a lot harder, get better every week and if we win, it is going to be one hell of an achievement.”

A FEELING OF RELIEF

It has been just over six weeks since that day at the Coliseum. But still, the mere mention of it causes a grin to form on the face of Billy Meakes. He is still in LA, enjoying all that life has to offer him there, before preparation for the new season gets underway.

Those preseason preparations often have a bearing on how a season plays out and for LA, their successes can be attributed to their efforts to before the regular season began in March.

Having a six week camp in Hawaii, which Meakes joined late after concluding his duties with London Irish in the English Premiership, before moving to Oxnard, California, the Giltinis got to know each other very well over an extended period of time, forming relationships that would serve them well on the field. 

So, when JP Doyle blew the final whistle that crowned the team champions, what were his feelings?

“It is hard to describe,” Meakes said. “The overriding emotion was probably relief to be honest. I haven’t been involved in a final like that before, I had won a Challenge Cup with Gloucester, which was obviously special, but the build-up was totally different.

Photo by Brian Jackson

“From day one in Maui, all the way (to the Final) with all the ups and downs, with the added pressure of Covid, no one seeing their family for however long, it was just an overriding relief that we had actually done it.”

THIS OFFSEASON

Meakes has remained in LA this offseason and is passing his time by filming for the Giltinis social media channels and developing his clothing range, Bald. More recently he was one of a number of Giltinis players that joined the team’s 2021 MLR Draft picks for a week of training in LA. 

With Darren Coleman having departed for new pastures with the NSW Waratahs, Stephen Hoiles has taken on head coaching duties and with the futures of both Giteau and Ashley-Cooper uncertain, it is very much a time of change.

On top of this, LA now have it all to lose as champions, Meakes already excited for the challenge ahead.

“It is a weird one, because you have had such a high and then you need to back it up,” Meakes explained. “The pressure is on, you have a target on your back, and if there wasn’t a target on our back last year, there definitely is this year. 

“I miss it so much and it has only been six weeks. With the new coaching setup, it is going to be really refreshing, and even seeing the draft guys come in and do their week of training, that was cool to see new faces in. 

“Once the squad gets together, we are going to be a hungry bunch, a bunch that is going to be ready to back up the title. I am itching to get back in there with the boys.”

The post 2021 Back of the Year Billy Meakes Talks LA and that Winning Relief appeared first on Major League Rugby.