Raptors Defeat Seawolves, Secure First Place in MLR Playoffs
Raptors Defeat Seawolves, Secure First Place in MLR Playoffs
By: Colton Strickler
Photo: Seth McConnell
The Glendale Raptors and the Seattle Seawolves squared off in one of the largest matches of the inaugural Major League Rugby season on Saturday evening.
The first-place Raptors (7-0) and the second-place Seawolves (6-2) met for the second time of the season under the bright lights at Infinity Park in a match that has the potential to flip the top two spots of the standings ahead of the MLR Playoffs.
The match, which Glendale won 33-11, was decided by two scoring runs. The first run of the match came from the Seawolves.
Having dropped the first meeting back in Week 2, the Seawolves were out for a little revenge and got off to a hot start as a result. Unlike the last time the two clubs met, didn’t lead in their 19-15 loss to the Raptors. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. They scored the first 11 points of the match with a try from inside centre Mozac Samson in the 11th minute and a penalty kick and a drop goal from fly-half Will Holder in the 16th and 29th minute, respectively.
After holding the Raptors scoreless for 35 minutes, the wheels began to fall off for the Seawolves.
“I was very pleased with our play for the first half and thought we looked pretty dangerous,” Seawolves scrum-half and head coach Phil Mack said after the match. “I think the biggest difference was Glendale taking their chances when they arose. We had a lot of opportunities to score but didn’t make them count.”
The Raptors, who had trouble capitalizing on their offensive chances early in the match, struck first on a play created by the defense when outside centre Chad London poached a ball out of the back of a Seawolves ruck and took it in for a long try. Fly-half Maximo de Achaval converted the try to give cut Seattle’s lead to just four points with just five minutes remaining in the first half.
According to Glendale head coach David Williams, the Raptors ability to blow the match wide open came down to one thing.
“Just pressure,” Williams said. “Our defensive line speed, getting off the line, being more physical, winning the collisions, and then they’d turn the ball over and we can make opportunities that we can score points on which is awesome.”
London’s try signaled the beginning of Glendale’s 33-point run and the end of Seattle’s. They scored another try just four minutes later when hooker Zach Fenoglio rode a driving maul into the in-goal to give the Raptors a 14-11 lead heading into the half after de Achaval’s conversion.
The second half was all Glendale, and according to London, that was a result of possessing the ball and sticking with the defensive tenacity that got them back in the match.
“Holding onto the ball,” London explained. “We lost our way a little bit (in the first half). We would go multiple phases and then cough the ball up basically. Holding onto the ball, being a little bit more decisive in our running, in our attack play. On defense just holding them back. They are a good team, a good defensive team, good attacking team. Defensively I think we stepped up huge and that helped us moving forward.”
Glendale wasted little time padding their lead out of the break. Inside centre Mika Kruse squeezed through Seattle’s defensive line in the 44th minute and London followed suit in the 50th minute for his second try of the match. London was on the receiving end of a de Achaval grubber as the Raptors made the most of their one-man advantage from a Seattle yellow card.
They struck one last time in the 53rd minute when Connor Cook rumbled in for the final try of the match. De Achaval’s conversion made it 33-11 with 27 minutes to play.
Down but not out, the Seawolves just couldn’t find a way to crack the Raptors’ defense. Glendale’s tenacity forced the Seawolves into several penalties, shutting the door on any chance of a Seattle comeback.
“I think it’s basically defensive pressure,” Williams said of the difference in the final 20 minutes of the match. “We just build pressure, build pressure, build pressure, and that causes turnovers and that basically turns into points from there.”
“A lot of times at the end of the rugby game, especially guys coming up here to altitude it’s hard,” London said. “For us, the last 20 minutes, mentally we know it’s going to be a dogfight and we know that they are a 60-minute team and we just have to hold them to that. Once we got the momentum we knew they were in it and we knew what it would take to beat them.”
Seattle threatened one final time, but Glendale’s defense again stood strong to secure the 22-point victory.
The Seawolves finished the regular season with 29 points, locking them firmly into the second seed ahead of the MLR Playoffs which will be held at Infinity Park on Saturday, June 30. According to Mack, they’ll use their hard-earned bye week to tune up ahead of the tournament.
“We will use this week to review and preview for the playoffs,” Mack said.
With the five points the Raptors picked up in the win and the 34 they’ve earned on the season, they have locked up first place ahead of the tournament but will head down to San Diego for a match against the Legion on Saturday, June 23. San Diego, who also locked up a playoff spot in Week 9, will move into third place with a win over the Raptors.
Tries: Chad London (2), Zach Fenoglio, Mika Kruse, Connor Cook
Drop Goals: N/A
Conversions: Maximo de Achaval (4/5)
Tries: Mozac Samson
Penalties: Brock Staller (1/1)
Drop Goals: Brock Staller (1/1)
Conversions: Brock Staller (0/1)
Colton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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