Coming into the game in fifth-place, due to wins by Toronto Arrows and Rugby United New York, the Seawolves controlled their own destiny and a win would have all but solidified a post-season berth going into the final two games.
Seattle loosehead prop Kellen Gordon noted that “the big focus was our defence, maintain a solid wall and then taking our opportunities and attack. That was one of the biggest things we talked about throughout the year, especially against a team like this. When you cough up the ball, they live off that.”
From the kickoff, it was obvious that the eighth-place Warriors were out to play spoilers. Seattle was playing for their second shield, and Utah playing for posterity. The physical test had everything; hard hits, line-breaks, questionable calls, lucky bounces and ended with the Seawolves’ first ever tie, 27-27.
Seattle started the game with a great chase of the kickoff, pinning Utah back into their own half, forcing a short kick out. In 48 seconds of play, the tempo was set as the game’s first of many scrums was awarded to Seattle. On the backs of two Utah penalties in under 2 minutes, the Seawolves found themselves knocking on the door inside the 22-meter line. The line-out maul was stopped short, but it was effective enough to open a lane for JP Smith, who peeled off the back and around the corner for the try. Brock Staller added the conversion and Seattle had first-blood 7-0 (3rd minute).
Utah answered five minutes later, after keeping the ball in the Seawolves’ half with some heavy pick-and-goes that clustered the Seawall in the center of the field. The warriors pushed the ball out wide and took advantage of an overload for their first score in the corner. Tim O’Malley missed the conversion, and Utah was on the board 7-5.
After some resourceful kicking back and forth, Seattle found some room to run the ball into mid-field, but their first penalty halted the attack. Utah capitalized in a big way, maintaining possession of the ball off their lineout deep inside Seattle’s half. A quick pass out found O’Malley, who charged in under the sticks. He converted his own try and Utah gained the lead that would not be relinquished until the end. 12-7 (12th minute).
A short while later, the Seawolves were on the winning side of a scrum, but Utah back Josh Whippy read a wide pass perfectly. Whippy took the interception and galloped in untouched for another Warrior try. With the conversion, their lead was pushed to 12 points 19-7 (18th minute).
The restart showed a great chase by the Seawolves, which forced a Utah penalty deep in their one territory. The maul off the lineout was stopped short but another Warrior penalty allowed for a Seattle scrum at the five-meter mark. The Seawolves’ forwards dominated the scrum, and as it unfolded shy of the tryline, the ref awarded Seattle a penalty try, cutting the deficit to 19-14 (22nd minute).
Utah quickly attacked again with a quick throw-in from touch, which got the Seawall back-pedaling. The Seawall stood strong, forcing a turnover and a clearance kick relieved the pressure.
The relief was short-lived however, as a Seattle infraction in range of the posts allowed O’Malley a penalty kick, extending the lead to 22-14 (29th minute).
Staller answered with a penalty kick of his own after some thundering runs by the Seattle forwards got to within his range. 22-17 (32nd minute).
The Seawall was tested again a few minutes later as a Seattle penalty allowed Utah a line-out at the five-meter mark. The ensuing maul was stopped short, but the barrage of pick-and-goes created a hole in the corner for Fetu’u Vainikolo’s second try of the game. The conversion sailed across the face of the posts and the Utah lead is at ten points 27-17 (36th minute).
As the first half wound down, Utah was on attack when Stephan Coetzee received a yellow card for an intentional knock-on. The play continued into extra time, and the Seawall was able to stop the extra-man attack by forcing another penalty and the halftime whistle blew.
The second half was a defensive battle. The Seawall, playing a man short in their forwards, kept the Warriors from gaining any momentum, as Utah was kept off the board for the entire half.
The Warriors were equally protective until Seawolves’ captain, Shalom Suniula, was the recipient of a flat pass from Phil Mack and broke through the Utah line and in for a try. 27-24 (64th minute).
Another ten minutes of back and forth defense and testing, Staller was put to the boot again when a Utah infraction was in range of the posts. The late penalty kick knotted the game at 27.
As the clock ticked past 80 minutes, the Seawolves were in the hunt again, smelling blood in the water inside Utah’s 22-meter line. Both teams were frantic, but a dead-ball forced the ref to blow the whistle on Seattle Seawolves’ first draw.
Seattle and Utah both get 2 points, with Utah gaining a bonus point for four tries.
With this tie, the Major League Rugby standings are looking interesting. There are only teams that can move on, the top team, San Diego Legion, has already clinched a spot, but could be dethroned as number one. There are now 4 teams with 53 points and all vying for the remaining three seats. This is rugby’s version of musical chairs and it is glorious! Each of the teams hold their future, and it is down to the final weekend to show who will be left without a chair as the music comes to an end on this second season.
Going into the locker room and focusing on net week, Gordon noted “I think the big focus is just going to be settling down, finding a rhythm again. We had that going into Ney York, going into Glendale. Going against Austin, it’s going to be about how we settle ourselves down, how we play our system, how we run our shape, and be able to play off of that.”
Seattle (10-4-1 53TP) holds the fourth and final spot as they look to go end the season Sunday at Starfire against Austin Elite (0-15-0 4TP), who, despite their winless record, could very well play spoiler as well.
Utah (2-11-2 20TP) travels back home to face Houston Sabercats (4-10-0 20TP) in a battle for seventh place.
Seattle Seawolves 27, Utah Warriors 27
Tries: JP Smith (3’), Shalom Suniula (64’)
Penalty Try: (22’) Automatic 7 points, no conversion
Conversions: Brock Staller 2/2 (4’), (67’)
Penalty Kicks: Brock Staller 2/2 (33’), (76’)
Yellow Card: Stephan Coetzee (40’)
Tries: Fetu’u Vainikolo (8’), (37’), Tim O’Malley (13’), Josh Whippy (18’)
Conversions: Tim O’Malley 2/4 (14’, 19’)
Penalty Kicks: Tim O’Malley 1/1 (29’)