Father’s Day brought a matchup any dad would be proud of. The top two teams in the league coming head-to-head in a culmination of a season full of great stories and outstanding rugby.
Down 23-19 with less than two minutes to go, Seattle mauled its way to a 26-23 victory in extra time, claiming the 2019 Major League Rugby Championship Shield. The win gives Seattle back-to-back championships as the second final in Major League Rugby plays to the last minute.
Last year Seattle Seawolves ousted San Diego Legion in the Semi-finals, and then beat Glendale Raptors in a final that was also played Torero Stadium. On Sunday, the 2018 champions were fighting to defend the shield, as the challengers were seeking revenge.
The top-seeded Legion with home-field advantage was set to receive and the championship was underway.
San Diego relinquished possession quickly with a box kick, and Seattle answered with the same game plan they had the prior week, playing territory.
Seattle had possession and a mishandled ball forced the game’s first scrum just two minutes into the game. The scrum is a focus for both powerhouse teams.
After both sides tested the air and the other team, a penalty allowed Flyhalf and Captain, Joe Pietersen, a chance for a penalty kick. The kick is high, and just crosses the bar for the game’s first points. San Diego draws first blood 3-0 (6th minute).
After some more back and forth, San Diego intercepted a telegraphed pass and pushed in ton the Seattle 22 meter line. The Seawall stood strong and Pietersen attempted a drop-goal, but failed to find the mark and the score remained 3-0.
Seattle had some much-needed offense, but it was kept short when a penalty allowed the Legion to attack deep in Seattle territory with a line-out. The Seawall held through numerous crashes.
Lock Joshua Furno drove a pick-and-go in over the line, and was held up by the Seawall.
On the ensuing 5-meter scrum, San Diego was back on the short attack, but Seattle stole possession and kicked it away for relief.
The relief was short-lived as San Diego quickly brought the ball back up to the Seattle 22-meter line, when another Seattle penalty allowed for Pietersen to tee the ball up. The penalty kick was successful, and the Legion stretch their lead 6-0 (21st minute).
Off the restart, the Seawolves regain possession inside Legion 22-meter line with a Seattle scrum.
A crashing George Barton sets the Seawolves in a flurry attack at the 5-meter line, where Hooker Stephan Coetzee gets the ball over the line for Seattle’s first points. Brock Staller added the conversion and Seattle took the lead 7-6 (23rd minute).
After some more back and forth by both teams, challenging the other, J.P. Smith took a short line-out trick play all the way from the San Diego 22-meter line and in for Seattle’s second try. Staller’s angled kick was successful, and Seattle extended their lead 14-6 (32nd minute).
As the half wound down, Seattle found themselves with some positive momentum near mid-field. But a fielded kick was sent out of bounds to stop the clock and send both sides in for the break.
Seattle received the restart and the second half began as the first ended, with both sides pressing the other and both defenses stepping up and showing their grit.
A Seattle knock-on gave San Diego the territory they needed as the Legion put a battle on for the home crowd within the 5-meter line. The Seawall forced a knock-on and thwarted San Diego’s first trip into the red zone in about thirty minutes.
The Legion were back on attack and the Seawall held strong forcing another loose ball. Seattle maintained solid defense through an onslaught of Legion attacks until San Diego found Nick Boyer streaking alone on the corner and in for a try. Pietersen added the difficult conversion, and Seattle’s lead was whittled to one point 14-13 (51st minute).
A defensive battle waged on as both sides managed to disorient any attacking tactic by the other.
San Diego took advantage of a San Diego penalty, driving a maul off the line-out in toward the try zone. The Seawall eventually stopped the maul, but the Legion continued the attack with pick-and-drives until Jordan Manihera found a hole and grounded the ball at the base of the post for a try. Pietersen’s conversion was good, and San Diego once again takes the lead 20-14 (65th minute).
After some continuing defense, Coetzee finds some space off a ruck and rumbles nearly 40 meters, only to be tackled by Pietersen in a try-saving effort near the Legion 5-meter line. A flurry of Seawolves continued the relentless attack and finally found Riekert Hattingh, who dove over the line for the Seattle try. Staller’s conversion crosses the face of the posts, and Seattle remains behind 20-19 (71st minute).
A short while later, the Legion took advantage of a Seattle miscue, and after centering the ball with some short passes, Pietersen has a straight shot for a drop goal. The ball sails through the uprights and San Diego goes up 23-19 (77th minute).
Seattle gained possession near mid-field with a line-out 90 seconds until full time. The Seawolves sustained pressure and crossed into Legion territory.
A high-tackle penalty call against San Diego allowed Seattle an opportunity for a line-out deep in the Legion half. Seattle’s line-out maul has been an ever-present force all year. The clock rounded 80 minutes as both teams gathered themselves and set up for what would be the final play.
The ball goes up, Hattingh collects and the maul is set. The mass of forwards pushed toward the line and rolled over as Lock Brad Tucker grounded the ball for the go-ahead score. Staller adds the conversion and the Seawolves have successfully defended the shield 26-23.
This final will most likely be the last final that features teams from the west coast. In 2020, the plan is to have two conferences, with the country split down the middle. There are at least three new expansion teams in the works as well as Major League Rugby continues on its path of positive growth.
Many MLR players are being call up for the USA squad, now gearing up for the impending Rugby World Cup later this year.
Seattle Seawolves 26, San Diego Legion 23
Tries: Stephan Coetzee (22’), J.P. Smith (32’), Riekert Hattingh (71’), Brad Tucker (80’)
Conversions: Brock Staller 3/4 (23’), (33’), (80’)
Tries: Nick Boyer (52’), Jordan Manihera (65’)
Conversions: Joe Pietersen 2/2 (53’), (66’)
Penalty Kicks: Joe Pietersen 2/2 (6’), (21’)
Drop Goals: Joe Pietersen 1/2 (78’)