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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Seattle Beat Glendale For MLR Title

Photo: Connie Hatfield
MLR Press Release

The third time proved to be the charms for the Seattle Seawolves on Saturday night.

Saturday night’s Major League Rugby Championship at Torero Stadium in San Diego, California marked the third time the Seawolves squared off against the top-seeded Glendale Raptors this season. With America's Championship Shield on the line, the Seawolves would have to defeat the one team they hadn’t been able to crack in 2018.

That’s exactly what Seattle did. Behind their trademark “Seawall” defense and complimentary rugby, the Seawolves defeated the Raptors 23-19 in a thriller to earn the title of Major League Rugby’s first-ever champion.

“We are really proud to have fronted up and play a full 80 minutes against them,” Seattle head coach and scrum-half Phil Mack said after the match. “That’s the recipe to beat Glendale, you can’t take any breaks.”

“Seattle was better today on both sides of the ball,” Glendale head coach David Williams said after the match. “They won the physicality on attack and spread well on defense shutting down our options.”

Take the jump to read more.
For two teams that have no problems putting points on the board, the first half of the match was a defensive battle.

It was the Seawolves that took the first lead of the match, but it was the Raptors that scored the first try. After Seattle’s fly-half Peter Smith drilled a penalty goal to give the Seawolves a 3-0 lead in the 10th minute, Glendale hooker Zach Fenoglio and his forward pack answered back with a try on a driving maul in the 13th minute, a tactic that has paid dividends for the Raptors all season and would do so again later on in the match as well. Fly-half Will Magie kicked the conversion to give the Raptors a 7-3 lead.

Seattle answered back on the other side of the match’s first hydration break with a driving maul of their own that resulted in a try from their hooker Ray Barkwill. After a solid push from the Seattle forward pack, Barkwill squirted out the side of the maul and broke a few tackles on his way into the in-goal. Smith missed the conversion, but the Seawolves regained an 8-7 lead.

Seattle attempted to add to their lead a few minutes later on crafty pattern off a lineout around midfield. Four quick passes freed fullback Matt Turner up for a long scoring run, but the try was reversed due to an obstruction call. Instead of letting the call take the wind out of their sails, the Seawolves buckled down and played tough defense to take their one-point lead into the half.

The Raptors have shown all season that they make their money in the second half of the matches, and it looked like that was exactly what they were going to do to the Seawolves early on in the second half. The Raptors cleaned up their errors and were rewarded as a result.

Like Groundhog Day, the Raptors punched their second try of the match into the in-goal by way of a driving maul when prop Kelepi Fifita dotted the ball down in the 50th minute. Magie’s missed the conversion, but the Raptors retook the lead.

Glendale capitalized on a broken play just six minutes later to add on to their 12-8 lead. Scrum-half Shaun Davies exploited some space in Seattle’s defensive backfield following a turnover with a high kick into the San Diego sky. After what seemed to be a Seawolves bounce, Seattle flanker Vili Toluta’u whiffed on a kick to clear and the Raptors scooped up the ball and sent it back to the center of the pitch for a Bryce Williams try. Magie’s conversion gave the Raptors a 19-8 lead heading into the second hydration break.

If Seattle was going to finally slay the dragon that was Glendale, they would have to act fast. They did exactly that a minute after the hydration break when outside centre William Rasileka dotted the ball down in the corner for a try.

“This group has been so much this year that when our backs have been against the wall, the cohesiveness of the team really showed in the come back,” Mack said.

Smith nailed the tough conversion to cut Glendale’s lead to six. Seattle built on the most important 10 minute stretch of their season with another try when wing Peter Tiberio broke Glendale’s defensive line and sent a ball back inside to eight-man Riekert Hattingh. Smith hit the conversion to give Seattle a 20-19 lead with just under 20 minutes to play.

Seattle finished their ever-important run with a deep penalty goal from Smith to give the Seawolves a 23-19 lead with around 12 minutes to play.

From there the Seawolves did what they’ve done all season. They played sound defense, forced Glendale into penalties and turnovers, and turned the clock into their opposition’s worst enemy.

“We gave away too many penalties and didn’t convert when we needed to,” Williams said after the match.

When it was all said and done, the Seawolves forced Glendale into 14 handling errors, 12 penalties and seven turnovers at the breakdown.

“Obviously we are extremely proud to have won this under our circumstances,” Mack said after the match. “Big credit goes to all the front office staff and the Seawolves organization, as well as all the support Seattle has given us from the first match to the final whistle. Bringing back the title to Seattle just reinforces the fact that professional rugby belongs in the Pacific Northwest.”

Seattle’s Vili Toluta’u was awarded the Most Valuable Player award.


Scoring

Glendale Raptors

Tries: Zach Fenoglio, Kelepi Fifita, Bryce Campbell
Penalties: N/A
Conversions: Will Magie (2/3)

Seattle Seawolves

Tries: Ray Barkwill, William Rasileka, Riekert Hattingh
Penalties: Peter Smith (2/3)
Conversions: Peter Smith (1/3)

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