After finishing the inaugural Major League Rugby regular season with a record of 6-2, the #2 Seattle Seawolves traveled to Glendale, Colorado to compete against the #3 San Diego Legion in the first round of the MLR Championship Series.
The two squads last squared off in the Seawolves’ home-opener, where Seattle handled the Legion with a score of 39-23. The Seawolves knew the challenge they were up against: San Diego was coming in a different team from their previous encounter having upset the previously undefeated Glendale Raptors in their final match of the regular season. Featuring a number of Seawolves players returning from injury and National Team duty, Seattle came together and to stamp their ticket to MLR Championship.
The Legion drew first blood off the boot of Joe Peterson early in the match. With some swift passes from the San Diego backline, the Legion marched up field and forced a penalty against the Seawolves to set up a Legion conversion attempt. Joe Peterson’s kick was good and the Legion were first on the board in the 3rd minute, 3-0.
Seattle got their first opportunity to score after Cam Polson forced the turnover on their own kick off. A strong run from Riekert Hattingh put Peter Smith in good position for points after the Legion were hit with a penalty. Smith’s kick is perfect and the Seawolves tied it up early in the match, 3-3.
The Legion earned their first try of the match in the 8th minute following a Seawolves lineout. Under pressure from San Diego in their own territory, Seattle attempted to boot to safety. The Legion’s Peterson collected the kick and didn’t take his eyes off the try line. Evading five Seawolves, Peterson took it in and dotted it down for five. A successful conversion and the Legion were up 10-3.
The Legion were bearing down in the 17th minute, but the Seawolves showed why their defensive stands have been called ‘the Seawall’. Inching closer with each pick and go, the Legion came close to pushing the ball over the line but were held up in the try zone by the Seawall, setting up the first scrum of the match. The Seawolves pushed together as a unit and blasted the Legion off the ball, allowing Seattle to clear the ball to safety and once again show why they have the strongest defense in the league.
After a close encounter with the Legion’s try line, Hattingh found a gap in San Diego’s defense with five minutes to go in the half. The 8 man stormed from mid-field into San Diego’s 22 meter before being taken down just shy of the paint. Eric Duechle secured the ball off the ruck and offloaded it to a close-in-support Shalom Suniula. Ripping through the Legion and weaving his way through San Diego’s remaining defenders, Suniula took it down for the Seawolves first try of the match. Smith’s conversion was successful and the Seawolves tied up the match 10-10 before the half.
San Diego capitalized off Seattle’s sluggish start, but the Seawolves scrum was coming together and had the Legion on their heels. The Seawolves needed to keep their momentum going in the second half in order to advance to the Championship Final. And they did just that.
Both teams fought hard for 16 minutes to open up the second half but it was the Legion that took back the lead after knocking on the Seawolves’ door. Drew Gaffney took a ball at pace and found himself in open space all the way to a try for San Diego. The conversion was good, and the legion were up 17-10, 56 minutes into the match.
The Seawolves answered with a try of their own in the 62nd minute. After a Seawolves scrum in Legion territory, Smith sold the dummy to the outside and floated a beautiful inside pass to a hard-charging William Rasileka. The former Fijian National Team member broke one tackle and carried another with him as he put it down for five points. Another good conversion and the Seawolves tied the game back up at 17-17.
Seattle kept their foot on the gas and just three minutes later, thanks to Peter Tiberio, the extra energy paid off. Reading the Legion offense perfectly, a stutter step and an interception had Tiberio taking the ball back towards San Diego’s try zone untouched. Smith’s kick is successful and the Seawolves take the first lead of the game, 24-17.
Following a Legion kick-off in the 67th minute, Eric Duechle went up for the ball and San Diego player Siaosi Mahoni collided with him mid-air. This earned Mahoni a yellow card and the Seawolves took advantage quickly of the Legion’s having to play down. After quickly feeding the ball through the backs, Sequoyah Burke-Combes snatched a perfectly floated pass from Smith. Diving into the corner, the former Michigan Wolverine added on five more points as Seattle pulled away even further. Smith’s conversion was slotted through perfectly, bringing the score to 31-17.
Fielding Ben Cima’s kick in the 78th minute, Mat Turner turned on the burners to push the Seawolves into position for their final try of the match. Tiberio kept the play going out wide with Aladdin Schirmer secured Tiberio’s offload. Immediately up after being tackled, Tiberio delivered the ball to John Hayden. Smashing into a Legion defender and dragging him towards the try line, Hayden would not be denied his first try of the season. Smith converted another kick, adding to his perfect record on the game, as Seattle stretched their lead to 38-17.
San Diego managed to answer with a try and conversion in bonus time to bring the score to 38-24, but the final whistle blew shortly after and the Seawolves successfully collected their respective spot in the inaugural MLR Championship.
Seattle will face the Glendale Raptors for the third time this season when they travel to San Diego to compete for the first ever MLR Championship on July 7 at 6:00 p.m. PDT. Domestic fans can tune in on CBS Sports and international fans may stream the match Major League Rugby’s Facebook page.