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In the Major League Rugby semifinal doubleheader at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo., the Seattle Seawolves and the Glendale Raptors advanced to the inaugural championship on Saturday. After being knotted at 10-10 at the half, Seattle scored three tries with the man advantage to beat the San Diego Legion, 38-24. In the nightcap, Glendale dominated the first half scoring the match’s first 22 points and added two more in the second half to stop the Utah Warriors, 34-21.
All eyes will be on Torero Stadium in San Diego, Calif. on July 7th when the MLR’s top two squads will battle for the league's top prize.
Seattle vs San Diego
The #2 vs #3 matchup featured two seasoned clubs hoping to play in the first MLR championship. What followed was a super competitive first half where both squads played to a stalemate and then Seattle taking over in the final 20 minutes. The Seawolves ate up the shorthanded defense to secure the lead and the Sea-Wall put the game out of reach for the Legion.
On the difference in play between the two halves, Seattle captain Shalom Suniula said, “We honestly just tried to enjoy ourselves more in the second half and play with a bit more confidence... [With the man advantage,] we took a gamble and went for the scrum instead of the easy three points, it paid off and we kept looking for those mismatches.”
It wasn’t San Diego’s best effort as solid play turned into a disaster in the second half with penalty trouble. “We had 82% field position after 26 minutes and then, unfortunately, the scrum on their side cost us and we lost a bit of momentum,” Legion head coach Rob Hoadley said. “Ultimately we just didn’t defend well. We missed way too many first-up tackles that cost us field position and obviously the penalties in the second half and the two yellows [attributed to the loss.]”
Suniula gave the game ball to his tight five for doing the hard yards. “I thought the turning point was that scrum we won five meters off our line 20 minutes in, San Diego was leading 10-3 and could have easily added to their momentum.”
It’s been a rough road for San Diego, but Hoadley believes the future is bright for his club. “We learned so much, it’s been up and down. We haven’t had the consistency of having our squad together... We had Eagles away and injuries for portions of the season and lost a lot of experience. In that time, we found some gems with some young talent that we are really proud of and they are going to do a great job for us in the years to come. From starting from scratch and having those moments of up and down, the building blocks are there, we know the direction we go for next season.”
There is more one game for Seattle and the keys to the final are simple. “Possession and converting line breaks on attack. Defensively, it will be discipline,” Suniula concluded.
Glendale vs Utah
Save for the last game of the regular season, Glendale ran roughshod over the competition this year. The MLR semifinal was no exception as the Raptors chewed up Utah in the first half and led 34-7 before the Warriors put two in late. In the end, Glendale booked its ticket to the final with a 34-21 victory in front of the home crowd at Infinity Park.
“The plan was to start fast and match their physicality,” Glendale’s Shaun Davies said. “We came out the blocks firing but at times our accuracy let us down. Luckily, we were able to get on the scoreboard early and then keep the lead.
Head coach David Williams echoed his scrumhalf saying, “We wanted to spread Utah out and knew we had to bring the physicality. We knew we had to bring line speed and structure in defense. We were poor at the point of contact and that took away our momentum in attack. But we created lots of chances, finished some but left a few points on the board which was disappointing and the game should have been finished a lot earlier.”
“Utah did well to hold onto the ball for long passages of play which really tested our defense,” Davies added. “I was proud of the boys for sticking to the defensive shape for the most part and building the yellow wall. I thought the boys put in a real team effort but up front, the guys did great to lead the way and give us front foot ball.”
The Raptors will compete against a familiar foe in the final as they beat the Seawolves twice in the regular season. “Looking forward to Seattle next week, we know they have a really good pack and will look to dominate the set piece,” Davies said. “If we can get quality ball and control the pace it will give us a good chance. It’s been a fantastic season and hopefully, we can put on the spectacle that the fans deserve.”