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Chalk held in the first Major League Rugby semifinal Saturday, as the Seattle Seawolves topped the San Diego Legion, 38-22. The game was nip-and-tuck through the first hour, at the end of which San Diego led 17-10. But a pair of yellow cards for the Legion helped the Seawolves close out the win with a 28-5 run in the final 15 minutes.
San Diego caught the first couple of whistles, including a penalty on Seattle flanker Vili Toluta’u for diving over at the ruck and an offside infraction. Fullback Joe Pietersen banged over a penalty in the fourth minute, putting the Legion up 3-0 to start.
The Legion bungled the ensuing restart, with Cam Polson pressuring Taku Ngwenya into a mishandle, giving Seattle its first attacking possession. The Legion returned the favor by committing a penalty in front of the sticks, which Seattle's Pete Smith converted to tie the game.
Pat Blair ripped a turnover out of the grasp of a tackled Seawolf, giving San Diego the territorial advantage off the next restart. Tadhg Leader then found space behind the Seattle defensive line with his boot, giving the Seawolves a lineout with their heels on their own try line.
The exit attempt resulted in a shallow kick straight into the hands of a charging Pietersen, who sloughed off a Ray Barkwill tackle attempt en route to the game’s first try. The successful conversion saw the underdogs take a 10-3 lead after 10 minutes.
Seattle caught a break in the 20th minute. The Legion had an attacking scrum five meters from the goal line. After numerous resets, referee Derek Summers penalized San Diego’s spinning scrum, allowing Seattle to clear its lines.
Tony Lamborn, who had been the most active and effective San Diego forward by some measure, went off early with an injury, just as Seattle's best forward was getting his legs under him. No. 8 Riekert Hattingh dragged multiple tacklers across the line, but as he stretched for the grounding, Chris Turori dislodged the ball, resulting in a knock-on. After Seattle owned the first put-in at the ensuing scrum, it was whistled and reset. Summers called the Seawolves for driving early, allowing San Diego to escape its own end with a free kick.
The Seawolves won their own lineout, and Shalom Suniula found Hattingh streaking through a small gap back to the five-meter line. Suniula got the ball on the next phase and pirouetted around a tackler before finishing under the posts. Smith knocked over the tying conversion, making it 10-10 with six minutes left in the half.
Hattingh made another clean line break off the kickoff, but his offload to Toluta’u was mishandled, resulting in a midfield scrum for San Diego. The rest of the half would be exhausted by spoiled scoring opportunities from both teams, as the tally remained locked at intermission.
San Diego got the first opportunity of the second half when Taku Ngwenya fielded a high ball, but Sione Tu’ihalamaka knocked on, ending the charge. The Legion kept the ball in the attacking end and the pressure resulted in a point-blank scrum, but Seattle’s pack earned a penalty in the set piece, winning reprieve.
The Legion lost another opportunity when Ngwenya bowled over Peter Tiberio on the wing, but he rolled right into the lap of Phil Mack, who was rewarded with a penalty. A clean break from William Rasileka through the channel inside Dylan Audsley wasn’t rewarded, though, as a long cutout pass to Smith was off target.
The Legion finally converted in the 57th minute with a try from Drew Gaffney. Nate Augspurger danced through the Seattle defense in counter attack, and as the ball made it to Leader’s hands, Seattle expected it to go wide and Gaffney ran a narrow inside line off the flyhalf for the try. Peterson converted – 17-10 to the Legion with just over 20 minutes to play.
Seattle responded through Rasileka in the 63rd minute. He took a hard line into a mess of Legion defenders meters short of the try line, and reserve flanker Alec Barton went low at the Fijian’s knees with no arms, which Summers caught on the TMO, resulting in a yellow card. The Seawolves won the ensuing scrum, and this time Rasileka’s point-blank charge wasn’t cut down illegally. The conversion drew the score level.
Not two minutes later, reserve center Dylan Audsley threw an interception to Tiberio, who had Ngwenya covered like a blanket. The former Arizona standout ran in unchallenged for the go-ahead score. Smith’s kick was good – 24-17 with 14 minutes left.
The Legion were shown a second yellow card when reserve lock CC Mahoni took out a Seawolf in the air on the kickoff following Tiberio’s try. Despite the disadvantage, the Legion kept possession and mounted an attack through a break from Augspurger, but he was isolated in the tackle, and Seattle’s Sequoyah Burke-Combs won the ball back via a penalty in the breakdown.
With two centers filling the flank positions in the scrum, San Diego was on skates during the double power play. Off a scrum the Seawolves penetrated the Legion line, resulting in an overload on the right touch line. Burke-Combs took a cutout pass in for the death knell. Seattle converted again, taking a 14-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
John Hayden added on more after a long break from Tiberio in counter attack, and Augspurger would dot down one at full-time, too. Both would prove immaterial, as Seattle was already well on its way to next week’s final in San Diego.