MLR Playoffs - June 2019

June 10 2019

MLR Rugby

Seattle Seawolves Head to MLR Championship for 2nd Consecutive Year After Defeating Toronto Arrows: MATCH VIDEO & ROSTERS

A Seattle Seawolves team with seven Canadians on the roster knocked Toronto out of the MLR playoff race with a strong first half performance. They went up 10-0 from a Staller penalty and a J.P. Smith try set up by a chip kick from flyhalf Ben Cima. A worrying sign for Toronto and potentially the Canadian national team was seeing #8 Luke Campbell coming off the field holding his arm with what looked like a wrist injury. Staller added 3 more points and it was 13-0 at the 20 minute break. Seattle went ahead by 7 more on a try by Canadian Jeff Hassler, this is a play we hope to see Canada use more with their national team, bringing the speedy wingers on an inside line off the first receiver. Staller added another 3 before Uruguayan winger Gaston Mieres scored for the Arrows converted by New Zealand #10 Sam Malcolm. The halftime score was 23-7 in favour of the hometown Seawolves.

Mike Sheppard scored a solo try for Toronto to start the second half picking off a lazy pass by the scrum half J.P. Smith, 23-14. Toronto added a penalty before the three-quarter mark to make it a close 23-17 match. The Seattle subs were brought on including Phil Mack at scrum half. The Seawolves were awarded a penalty try for repeated infringements by Toronto in bringing the maul down, the final straw was taking a maul down that was about to cross the line. Peter Milazzo the Toronto openside was given a yellow card as a consequence. The teams wound down the final 10 minutes without changing the scoreline and Seattle are off to the finals to defend their title against San Diego.

Seattle 30 v Toronto 17 from MLR Rugby

The Seattle Seawolves used a red-hot start on Sunday evening to defeat the Toronto Arrows 30-17 and punch their ticket back to the Major League Rugby Championship.

Despite running into an Arrows side that was riding a seven-match win streak into the second match of the MLR Championship Series, it was the Seawolves who came out of the gate swinging for the fences.

“We didn’t have 13 turnovers, probably the last six, seven weeks and we had 13 in the first half,” Arrows’ director of rugby Chris Silverthorn said after the match. “We just dropped the ball and then some calls didn’t go our way which hurts more. We just weren’t good enough on the day.”

Seattle wasted no time putting points on the board when wing Brock Staller punched a penalty goal through the pipes in the fifth minute of the match to give the Seawolves an early 3-0 lead. That momentum fed the crowd at Starfire Stadium and was only beginning of the storm that Seattle would create in the first 34 minutes of the match.

“The physicality was increased another step up,” Silverthorn said. “Our guys took some time to adjust to that. We haven’t been on the road in a long time. We have been on a roll and we’ve been playing well. It was hard to take that step back.”

The Seawolves kept their foot on the gas early in the match. They followed up their penalty goal with a try just three minutes later when fly-half Ben Cima chipped a ball over the top of the Arrows defense that landed right in the hands of a streaking Mat Turner. Turner passed the ball to Shalom Suniula who offloaded it to scrum-half J.P. Smith for the try. Staller nailed the conversion and then added another penalty goal just a few moments later to give the Seawolves a 13-0 lead heading into the 20-minute hydration break.

The other side of the hydration break was much of the same for the Seawolves. After a few minutes of back-and-forth rugby, they struck again with a try from wing Jeff Hassler, who took an inside pass from Cima through a big hole in the Arrows defense. Staller added the conversion and a penalty goal in the 34th minute to put the Arrows in a 23-0 hole with only six minutes remaining in the first half.

It wasn’t until the 40th minute that the Arrows warmed up when fly-half Sam Malcolm took a pass and skipped over two attackers to find fullback Gaston Mieres out wide. He stepped back inside and squirted through a hole in the Seawolves defense to get the Arrows on the board. Malcolm kicked the conversion to give the Arrows some life heading into the half.

“All credit to Seattle,” Silverthorn said of Seattle’s first half. “They were a physical team in the first half, but in the second half, our guys really responded well and came out strong. We had them on their back foot and some certain things didn’t go our way. That’s hard.”

Tonto built on that momentum early in the second half. They struck first when lock Mike Sheppard stepped in front of a Seawolves pass and motored in for the try. Malcolm nailed the conversion to bring the score to 23-14 in the 50th minute.

After some battle for territory, the Arrows took advantage of a Seattle penalty with a Malcolm penalty goal that shrunk the Seawolves lead to just six points heading into the 60-minute hydration break.

Despite a rare Brock Staller missed penalty goal that kept the door open for the Arrows to complete the comeback, the Seawolves benefited from a penalty try in the 68th after Toronto flanker Peter Milazzo was whistled for collapsing a maul.

Facing a 30-17 deficit with 14 players on the pitch, the Arrows didn’t quit and were almost rewarded with another try when Sheppard took a short lineout into the in-goal. After TMO revealed that the lineout didn’t travel five meters, the Arrows weren’t able to muster up another serious attacking chance and the Seawolves earned their opportunity to complete their title defense.

The Seawolves will travel to San Diego to take on the top-seeded Legion in the MLR Championship. The match is scheduled to kick off at 4 PM ET on Sunday, June 16 and will be broadcast on CBS.

Seattle Seawolves

Tries: J.P. Smith, Jeff Hassler, Penalty Try
Conversions: Brock Staller (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Brock Staller (3/5)

Toronto Arrows

Tries: Gaston Mieres, Mike Sheppard
Conversions: Sam Malcolm (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Sam Malcolm (1/1)

Match Video

Seattle Roster

Toronto Roster

San Diego 24 v New York 22 from MLR Rugby


If not for the bounce of a ball, the San Diego Legion’s season looked as if it was going to end the same way that it began.

Back in Week 1, Rugby United New York earned their first Major League Rugby victory by defeating the Legion 25-23 at Torero Stadium. On Sunday, 19 weeks after the season opener with a chance at the MLR Championship on the line, RUNY found themselves clinging to a 22-17 lead late in the first semifinal match of the MLR Championship Series.

That was until San Diego inside center J.P. du Plessis scooped a pass up off the turf and rolled in for a try in the 78th minute to tie the match at 22 points apiece. Fly-half Joe Pietersen nailed the tough conversion secure the 24-22 victory to help the Legion come out on the right side of a match decided by two points this time around.

“It’s an incredible group of men,” Legion head coach Rob Hoadley said of his team after the match. “They never lost belief and found a way to finally convert an opportunity at the death. We need to massively increase our accuracy next week to avoid undermining our performance with sloppy errors. Congratulations to a tough NY team who brought so much to the MLR this year, and put in a strong performance in this contest.”

The Legion finished the match as strong as they started. After five solid minutes of rugby to start the match, RUNY woke up. With their extremely physical brand of rugby, RUNY forced San Diego into penalties and those penalties paid dividends early on.

The first points of the match came in the 16th minute when RUNY turned a San Diego penalty into a lineout. One phase after securing the ball, RUNY prop Paddy Ryan rumbled in for a try on a pick and go to draw first blood. Fly-half Cathal Marsh nailed his conversion to put RUNY up 7-0 heading into the 20-minute hydration break.

Just as it took 16 minutes of the two teams figuring each out to produce the first try of the match, it took another 13 minutes of prodding and poking to produce the second one as well.

After working their way down inside RUNY’s 22, the Legion won the ball in the lineout and spun it across the field. They found some space between the posts and went to work. After a few phases, it was prop Faka’osi Pifeleti who picked the ball up out of the back of the ruck and bulldozed his way in for the Legion’s first try. Pietersen hit the conversion to knot the match at seven.

The Legion took their first lead of the match eight minutes later after Pietersen nailed a penalty goal to give put them out front 10-7, but it was RUNY who would carry the momentum into the locker room at the half. Just as it seemed the Legion would go into the break on top, RUNY hooker Dylan Fawsitt, like he’s done so many times this season, rode a driving maul over the line and in for New York’s second try of the match. Marsh was unable to hit the conversion, but RUNY took a 12-10 lead into the half.

While RUNY may have had the momentum going into the half, San Diego didn’t waste any time snatching it back afterward. After stealing the kickoff, the Legion worked quickly to move into the red zone. Lock Josh Furno finished off the sequence with a try and Pietersen’s conversion gave the Legion a 17-12 lead in the 42nd minute.

Even with San Diego’s swift work, RUNY didn’t panic. They worked their way back down the field to get back into scoring position and forced the Legion into conceding another penalty. Marsh hit the penalty goal to cut the gap to just two points in the 45th minute.

RUNY’s physicality was on full display for the remainder of the match. The Legion did all they could to crack the RUNY defense but were met with crushing tackle after crushing tackle every time they touched the ball. It seemed as if the Legion were going to escape into 60-minute hydration break with the lead after Marsh’s missed penalty goal, but RUNY again applied the pressure.

Fullback Ben Foden caught a pass and put a kick high into the air. After Legion scrum-half Nate Augspurger appeared to lose the ball in the sun, Foden chased down his own kick and found an open James Denise who stepped a defender and scored a try. Marsh hit the conversion to give RUNY a 22-17 lead heading into the 60-minute hydration break.

With their backs against the wall, the Legion had to find a way to crack the dominant RUNY defense. It wasn’t until the 78th minute that Jordan Manihera received the ball out wide and tried to find Will Holder, but was hit in the back by a RUNY defender. The hit, which forced an errant pass, caused the ball to roll through Holder’s legs and into the waiting arms of du Plessis who worked his way into the corner for the try. Pietersen nailed the tough conversion to put the match on ice, and the Legion punched their ticket to the MLR Championship.

“The key was just avoiding errors in possession,” Hoadley said. “The players took great confidence into those last moments, knowing that we had scored tries in similar scenarios against Houston and home and Glendale away earlier in the season.”

San Diego’s victory means that the top-ranked Legion will host the Seattle Seawolves in the MLR Championship on Sunday, June 16 at 4 PM ET. The match will be broadcast on CBS.

“This is the final step on our mission,” Hoadley said of the MLR Championship. “From the outset, we have worked to become a cornerstone of the San Diego community. It has been incredible to see how our fanbase has grown, and they pushed us over the try line with their vocal support today. We are incredibly privileged to have another opportunity to represent them with pride next Sunday.”


San Diego Legion

Tries: Faka’osi Pifeleti, Josh Furno, J.P. du Plessis
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3/3)
Penalty Goals: Joe Pietersen (1/1)

Rugby United New York

Tries: Paddy Ryan, Dylan Fawsitt, James Denise
Conversions: Cathal Marsh (2/3)
Penalty Goals: Cathal Marsh (1/2)

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