Pundits Picks: Playoffs
MLR commentators and Kickoff hosts, Dan Power and Pete Steinberg, sit down and review the upcoming playoff fixtures. Read below on their thoughts and predictions.
San Diego Legion v Rugby United NY
Well, what a season we just witnessed!!! Major League Rugby delivered and all nine teams and their fans deserve a pat on the back for playing a huge part in that. Now it’s down to the business end as four teams remain in the quest for the Championship Shield. San Diego and New York will kick things off on Sunday afternoon at Torero Stadium in San Diego. Look back to Week 1 and The Roosters went on the road and beat the Legion at home. January seems like a lifetime ago now, but Mike Tolkin and his charges know they can win there. It will all fall on their ability to, at the very least, match San Diego in the scrum. Legion prop Paddy Ryan has been stellar all season and the big Aussie is custom-built for finals footy. Add in the veteran Joe Pietersen and the Legion have the tools to punch their tickets to the MLR Championship. San Diego by 12.
Seattle Seawolves v Toronto Arrows
Just like the two aforementioned sides, Seattle and Toronto split their regular season games this year. For the Arrows, it was a case of “Mad Max” the first half of the season as The Road Warriors did enough to give themselves a chance. They now find themselves on a seven-game win streak and practically at full strength for this game. The Seawolves will look to defend their shield. They crept up last year as the underdogs and won it all but this season they wore the target of champions against every side. They made a splash in free agency by picking up Samu Manoa late in the year and locking up player of the year candidate Brad Tucker to bolster an already impressive roster. The sides are so well matched that this game could come down to the bounce of a ball. Home field advantage and those vivacious Seattle fans give the Seawolves a slight edge, Seattle by three.
San Diego Legion v Rugby United NY
While RUNY has not been playing their best, they are a difficult team to play against. They have a strong scrum which will match up well against the Legion and their lineout is a try-scoring machine. I also believe that RUNY has the skilled back three that can counter the Legion’s kicking game. The big question is whether they can generate enough attack. Having Ross Deacon back at No.8 is important while Cathal Marsh finally looks like he has recovered from a groin injury and is attacking the line.
The Legion has evolved throughout the season and are no longer playing the wide open game they did earlier. They are a mature side that plays territory and leads with a strong scrum and a physical defense. NOLA was only able to get outside the Legion defense a couple of times, and the Legion’s line-speed will put pressure on the RUNY backs. The Legion will need an edge in the scrum and continue to be opportunistic on RUNY’s mistakes. One of their best opportunists is Mike Te’o, who took an injury in the last game and may not be healthy. The Legion will need to reduce their penalties (they have committed the most penalties in the league) because of the effectiveness of the RUNY lineout.
RUNY’s Keys to Victory:
- Punish Legion penalties with their lineout drive
- Keep their depth on attack and use dummy runners to slow the Legion launch
- Work hard in the back three to counter the Legion kicking game
San Diego’s Keys to Victory:
- Get the edge in the scrum
- Limit penalties
- Take their opportunities on turnovers
Legion 25, RUNY 19
Seattle Seawolves v Toronto Arrows
The Seawolves have not played their best the last couple of games but they have done what they needed to host a home playoff game. Using their crowd will be important so they need to have a good start. Although their scrum has not been as dominant as last year, they should have the edge over the Arrows. The key for the Seawolves on attack is to get their back row ball runners moving forward early. Riekert Hattingh and Brad Tucker are both excellent ball runners. They can use that to generate the fast-ball to open opportunities for their backs. Their lineout has had problems and they need to make sure they stay away from Luke Campbell and Peter Milazzo who are both very good defensive lineout jumpers. We have not seen as much of the “Seawall” defense and that is mainly due to the loss of Vili Tolata’u who was a master at slowing down the ball. The other back row forwards are excellent players, but they miss someone who can really contest at multiple breakdowns. This means that the Seawolves have needed to defend outside more often, and defending the Arrows fullback Gaston Mieres will be critical.
The Arrows are on a remarkable run of seven wins in a row, but they were all at home. They were more inconsistent in their away games, alternating between wins and losses. Toronto has given the impression of a team not playing up to its potential, partly due to a changing lineup throughout the season. They do have an impressive kicking game, and that can be useful against the Seawolves who like to run it back. It will place a significant burden on their kick chase, especially if former Osprey winger Jeff Hassler starts on Sunday. Their scrum has the ability to stand up to the Seawolves scrum, but it is more a question of consistency. Their lineout does give them an edge. They like to play a wider game than the Seawolves and they should be able to generate the quick ball to give their fast outside backs a chance to make some plays. It has been a lack of accuracy outside that has cost them, so ball retention will be key when they move it wide.
Seattle’s Keys to Victory:
- Edge in the scrum
- Slow down the Arrows ruck ball
- A counter-attack from kicks with support
Arrows Keys to Victory:
- Kick chase to shut down the counter-attack
- Get the ball wide early with support
- Disrupt the Seawolves lineout
Seawolves 32, Toronto 30
Major League Rugby’s Championship series will consist of two semi-final games and the MLR Championship game over the course of two weekends. Both semi-final matches will be played on Sunday, June 9 with the San Diego Legion hosting Rugby United New York at Torero Stadium at 5 PM ET and the Seattle Seawolves hosting the Toronto Arrows at Starfire Stadium at 9 PM ET. Both semi-final matches will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. The highest remaining seed will host the lower remaining seed in the MLR Championship game at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 16. The MLR Championship will be broadcast on CBS.
The full match replay of the 2019 Major League Rugby Championship between
SALT LAKE CITY, UT (June 25, 2019) – Major League Rugby (MLR)
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