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With a pair of victories on Friday night, the Glendale Raptors and the Seattle Seawolves further separated themselves from the pack of Major League Rugby with two weeks left until the playoffs. The wins secured each club a spot in inaugural playoffs beginning on June 30th.
Both squads endured a fierce fight from the Houston Sabercats and the Austin Elite where each team’s defenses stepped up late to preserve the victories. Next week is the melee for first as the Raptors host Seattle in Glendale, Colo.
Houston at Glendale
Coming off a dominant win in New Orleans last Sunday, the Raptors welcomed the Houston Sabercats to Colorado under the lights of Infinity Park on Friday night. With five of its starters getting capped this weekend with the Eagles, Man of the Match Harley Davidson rattled off a hat trick and Maximo de Achaval totaled 17 points to beat the Sabercats, 37-24.
With a third of its starting lineup with the Eagles, Glendale’s next man-up mentality caused the squad not to miss a beat. “It doesn’t matter who fills that spot,” Davidson said. “We have a lot of depth, we practice against each other, and we know the standard we want to uphold... I don’t think we played to the standard we wanted, but we flushed it, kept trying to work at it, and I was really happy with [the result].”
It didn’t take long for Davidson to back up his words as the wing scored back to back tries in the first 15 minutes of action. Following a yellow card, Glendale added to the lead with a mauled try from Dylan Fawsitt before Houston’s Josua Vici broke the shutout at the horn.
Like the first half, Davidson opened up scoring in the second half and the Sabercats responded through a Matt Trouville try in the 58th minute. The Raptors came right back to extend the lead to 29-12 via a de Achaval converted try which was followed by an opportune drop goal.
In the final quarter, Houston refocused and made Glendale work to preserve the win. Coming off the bench, Alex Elkins scored twice in the final 15 minutes, but a de Achaval penalty in the 69th minute put the game firmly out of reach for the 37-24 victory.
Glendale didn’t make it easy for itself, especially in the second half where Houston scored three tries. “We made it hard work on ourselves but did enough to win and score some good tries,” head coach David Williams stated. “The team stuck to the plan and their individual jobs. The lads stepped up and beat a good Houston team that has good players all throughout their squad.”
Davidson said it was all about heart to buckle down and beat Houston. “Doing the little things right and upholding a standard [were key]... A lot of guys were tired. We had a really good start but I think we need to work on finishing the game.”
On next week’s potential MLR championship preview, Williams is excited to play against Seattle. “It will be physical for sure and we have to match and surpass them to be victorious. Always great to be at home again and in front our home fans.”
Davidson agreed with his coach’s excitement but is focused on his side’s efforts to get better. “We have to clean up a lot of our rugby. A lot of dropped balls today and little mistakes, but we will refine those in training and get back at it.”
Seattle at Austin
The Seattle Sea-Wall may have sprung a leak, but it stayed intact long enough for a 20-19 comeback triumph over a passionate Austin club at Round Rock Multipurpose Complex in Round Rock, Texas. It is the sixth win of the year for the Seawolves and the Elite remain in third place with a 3-4 record.
“The Sea Wall defense really got put to the test today, there were a few cracks in the wall we need to address before an important match this weekend,” Seattle captain Shalom Suniula said. “Austin showed us just how difficult it is for away teams to play down here. They had the momentum for the majority of the first half and we were lucky to regroup and get a few calls our way to finish the game.”
“The match ultimately came down to possession, the ball was surprisingly slippery and we managed to convert some opportunities in the second half,” outside center Will Rasileka added. “ The key to the game for us was getting through multiple phases. We mentioned at halftime that we needed to keep the ball in hand and trust our skills a bit more.”
Austin was first on the board with a Timothee Guillimin penalty to give the Elite the early 3-0 lead. After a missed penalty by Will Holder, Guillimin added another PK to the total before Ross Deacon scored off a lineout about halfway through the period for the 13-0 lead.
The Seawolves busted up the goose egg a few minutes later as a charged down kick led to a set play in the backs and the Rasileka score. The penalty bug kept plaguing Seattle as Guillimin connected on his third kick in the 25th minute. The action went back and forth as the half continued before Holder finally split the uprights just before the break.
Down by eight points at halftime, the penalties started going the other way for Seattle. Following a quick tap by Aladdin Schirmer, the ball was sent wide to Sequoyah Burke-Combs for the try to reduce the advantage to 16-13.
Both defenses amped up the pressure, but it was Austin who broke first. After the hydration break, a little forward magic produced the next score as flanker Eric Duechle crashed hard for a bruising run and Taylor Krumrei finished in the endzone for the Seawolves. With its first lead of the match, Holder added the conversion to push the advantage to four points with less than 20 minutes left.
Guillimin added another penalty in the 67th minute to cut the deficit to one point setting up a thrilling final ten minutes of the game. Both squads battled to the end and had their opportunities in the last stretch. Seattle held on and walked away with the 20-19 road win.
The Seawolves hope this gritty win has adequately prepared them for what may be their toughest match of the season at Glendale next Saturday. “To beat Glendale, we need to be disciplined and not give away cheap penalties like we did tonight,” Suniula said. “They’re a quality outfit and they have proven that through their track record. I believe if we maintain our shape on both sides of the ball and keep the silly penalties out then we will position ourselves to get a good result.”