Defending champions find themselves in a familiar spot. In Major League Rugby’s (MLR) inaugural season last year, the Seawolves were in second place after regular season play and faced the Glendale Raptors in a thrilling upset to win the shield.
This year, Seattle had to fight their way back into contention and fend off other great teams to secure the second seed. With the scenario being win and you are in, it took a bonus point win to etch out the Toronto Arrows, who would have held the tie-breaker had they ended with the same table points.
Seattle got their bonus point in a decisive 38-26 victory over Austin Elite. Austin came to play, and they weren’t going down without a fight. Austin played hard the entire 80 minutes, capping off with a 19-point unanswered surge to close the game.
From the moment they kicked the ball off to start the game, Austin set themselves as the potential spoiler they very well could be. For most of the first 10 minutes, Austin kept Seattle in their own half.
An elite penalty gave the Seawolves a chance to get back across mid-field with a 22-meter line-out. Seattle forced another penalty and just like that, they found themselves at the 5-mater mark and knocking on the door with a line-out maul. Loosehead Prop Djustice Sears-Duru peeled off the back of the maul and thundered in for the first score of the game. Brock Staller added the extras and Seattle is up 7-0 (8th minute).
A few minutes later, Austin had a chance of their own with a line-out just outside the Seawolves’ 5 meter line. In a beautifully executed set-piece, a streaking Travis Larsen speared his way through a gap in the line out, taking the direct throw and waltzed past an unexpecting Seawall for Elite’s first try. Zinzan Elan-Puttick’s conversion was successful and the score was knotted at 7 (13th minute).
After some hearty defense from both sides, Seattle forced a penalty within range of Staller, who broke the tie with a penalty kick, beginning the Seawolves’ momentum 10-7 (20th minute).
More defensive play as the Seawall pressure forced a couple Elite wayward passed that allowed Seattle to camp deep in Austin territory. Lock Brad Tucker was very opportunistic galloping in for two tries in the waning minutes of the first half. Staller remained perfect and Seattle extended their lead 24-7 going into halftime.
The second half started where the first one did, with hard hits, and excellent crash ball by both teams. Both sides were equally stout on defense, especially at the goal line.
It took a little more than ten minutes before Seattle found themselves in a scrum five meters out from the bonus-point try. It seemed as if the entire pack would push over the line, but a resourceful Riekert Hattingh gathered the ball on an eight-man pick and shot himself through and under the posts. With Staller’s conversion, Seattle’s lead was extended to 31-7 (52nd minute).
Another ten minutes and an enterprising run by Roland Suniula, followed by another bruising Tucker run set Seattle up deep inside Austin territory once again. Austin was called for collapsing the five-meter scrum, and on the ensuing quick tap, the ball is flung out wide to a waiting Jeff Hassler who quickly steps in for Seattle’s final try. Staller kept perfection going and Seattle held a 38-7 lead (63rd minute).
With the game apparently in the bag, the Seawolves appeared as though they let off the gas. On the other side, Austin fully took advantage of this and put up 19 unanswered points. With a try every 5 minutes, the clock was the best defender on the pitch in the last 15 minutes of the game.
In fact, Austin was pressing for a fourth second half score and got within ten meters, when the clock went over 80. The Seawall managed to force a penalty and the ref whistled the game to a close at 38-26.
Brock Staller ends 2019 season as the league-leader in total points (204), and conversions (48). Staller also came in a close second in the league for penalty kicks (26), just two away from first.
This bonus-point win solidified the second seed for Seattle (11-4-1 58TP). They will host third place Toronto Arrows (11-5-0 57TP) at Starfire on Sunday for the semi-final match, with the winner moving on to the final for the championship shield. For the third seed, Toronto narrowly beat the now fourth-place Rugby United New York with a drop-goal in the final few minutes of play.
Austin (0-16-0 5TP) earned another bonus point for tries but failed to get a win this season. With some recent coaching changes, they have already set their sights on the 2020 campaign.
Seattle Seawolves 38, Austin Elite 26
Tries: Djustice Sears-Duru (8’), Brad Tucker (32’), (40’), Riekert Hattingh (51’), Jeff Hassler (64’)
Conversions: Brock Staller 5/5 (9’, 33’, 40’, 52’, 65’)
Penalty Kicks: Brock Staller 1/1 (21’)
Tries: Travis Larsen (12’), Sione Fangaiuiha (67’), Moe Abdelmonem (71’), Mason Pedersen (77’)
Conversions: Zinzan Elan-Puttick 1/2 (13’), Andrew Suniula 2/2 (72’, 77’)
Man of the Match: Brad Tucker