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The Seattle Seawolves won the inaugural Major League Rugby title with a 23-19 defeat of the Glendale Raptors at Torero Stadium in San Diego, Calif Saturday. There were five lead changes in the back-and-forth contest, with the result not finalized until full time. Seattle openside flanker Vili Toluta'u was named the MVP of the championship game.
Seattle drew first blood in the 10th minute via a penalty from Peter Smith. John Quill was pinged for not rolling away, and the former Central Missouri placekicker gave the Seawolves a three-point advantage.
Glendale won a crucial breakdown penalty of its own in short order, leading to its first possession in the attacking 22. Riekert Hattingh went weak off a scrum, he was cut down, and Raptor No. 8 Sam Figg was immediately on top of the ball. Glendale kicked to the corner twice, getting a redo after a second penalty against Seattle, and drove a maul in from short distance. Will Magie converted, putting the Raptors up 7-3.
Seattle’s scrum put some cracks in the Glendale pack, but the Seawolves couldn’t turn the pressure into points. They earned a scrum penalty in the attacking end and ran off it. The scrambling Raptors were then called for diving off their feet in a ruck, giving Smith a second shot at goal, which he missed.
While they didn’t concede points immediately, the Raptors continued on the wrong side of the whistle. Multiple infractions gave the Seawolves a point-blank lineout. They set up a maul, and Canadian veteran Ray Barkwill peeled off the back and rumbled up the blindside for a try, squirming through Shaun Davies, Mika Kruse and John Quill for the grounding. Smith couldn’t convert, making it 8-7 to Seattle.
The lead was nearly stretched in the 28th minute off a lineout play near midfield. Sequoyah Burke-Combs, drafted into the starting lineup late after the loss of Brock Staller, made the initial line break, but Vili Toluta’u was called for obstruction on the move, nullifying the run. After the penalty was assessed, Glendale ended up with a lineout just inside the attacking 22.
The Raptors appeared to score themselves, with Zach Fenoglio peeling off the back of a maul and offloading to Harley Davidson, but the wing knocked on during the grounding, turning the ball over. The squandered opportunities continued through the rest of the half, as the score wouldn’t budge.
In the 46th minute, Seattle caught a break when a blatant foul play by second row Cam Polson went unpunished. Chad London was brought down, and Polson entered the tackle area from an offside position, driving his knee into London's head. The Glendale center was subbed off for Ata Malifa, never to return. Despite the play being reviewed, referee Scott Green deemed it safe and let Polson continue.
Glendale regained the lead 10 minutes into the second half. The Raptors struggled to penetrate Seattle’s tough defense in open play, but a trio of penalties gave Glendale two shots at a five-meter maul, the second of which ended in a John Quill try. Magie converted, giving the Raptors a 12-8 lead.
Seattle responded with an impressive drive, Olive Kilifi and Hattingh leading with big carries, but prop Tim Metcher lost the ball inside the attacking 22. Davies picked up the loose ball, kicked and chased, with Max de Achaval nearly catching the ball on the bounce. He just missed, and then Toluta’u whiffed on a flyhack, with the ball dribbling right into the hands of Magie. The Raptors shifted the ball to Bruce Campbell who slid under the posts for a try. Magie’s kick made it 19-8 with 25 minutes to play.
The Seawolves responded immediately, pinning Glendale deep in its own end off the kickoff, thanks to a swift chase from Peter Tiberio. Burke-Combs was corralled by Figg around the neck after the Raptors kicked to clear their lines, and the Seawolves scored a couple of phases off the ensuing lineout. First Toluta’u penetrated in the midfield, and a phase later William Rasileka bulldozed Dakota O’Neil in the corner for a try.
Seattle maintained possession through a long video review upholding the score. After exchanging long kicks, quick hands from Hattingh to Tiberio on the weakside of a ruck down the left side of the field sprung the Eagle free. Hattingh kept pace in support inside, finding a hole in the retreating Raptor defense. Smith couldn’t converted the first try, but he slotted the second, giving Seattle a 20-19 lead with more than 18 minutes to play.
A crucial offside call went against Glendale in the 67th minute just under 40 meters from the posts. Smith opted for a shot at goal and stroked over three points, meaning Glendale would need a try to regain the lead, as Seattle led 23-19.
Glendale failed to find touch on two penalties late in the game. On both occasions, Magie went for too much territory and never got the ball out of bounds. Mat Turner kicked the second back, giving the Raptors an attacking lineout from about 30 meters from pay dirt. Glendale turned the ball over on the set piece, though, and Seattle was able to kill the clock.