The Seattle Seawolves are in the final for the second year in a row. The 2018 defending champions out-played the Toronto Arrows in a very physical semi-final matchup Sunday at Starfire Stadium. Racing to a 23-7 halftime score and a defensive second half from both sides, the Seawolves were victorious over the Arrows 30-17.
The champions are in California next weekend in a game against the top-seeded San Diego Legion. A triumph would be the cap on a successful #defendtheshield campaign.
San Diego earned the top seed and won against the fourth-seed Rugby United New York in a thrilling game that ended on a last-second try and conversion just hours before the Seawolves kicked off. The Legion win secured the location of the championship final in San Diego.
“The focus was just to play our game,” Vili Toluta’u said after the match. Toluta’u, who is back in action for the first time in several games, also mentioned that Mat Turner told them “play with a smile, and we will come out victorious.” Toluta’u was back in action for the first time in several games after an injury.
Toronto, coming off a 7-game win streak, kicked off and buckled early under the pressure of Seattle’s pounding forwards. Unable to gain momentum on offense, Toronto backpedaled early and Brock Staller was brought on to tee the ball up early for a Seattle penalty kick just four minutes into the game.
Off the restart, the Seawolves are given another lineout set-piece that worked to their advantage as Shalom Suniula took a line-break and fed the ball to J. P. Smith who finished of the try. Staller added the conversion to make it a very quick 10-0 lead (6th minute).
Toronto errors and penalties thwarted any kind of offense the visitors mustered. This led to a point swing in Seattle’s favor as Staller was able to put it to the boot once again for another penalty goal and the lead was extended to 13-0 (15th minute).
After some back-and-forth play, Toronto was once again testing the Seawall and brought it across mid-field with rare possession in Seattle territory. Staunch defense by the Seawolves forced another turnover and put together their own string of resourceful pick-and-goes and short passes to soften the Arrow defense.
Jeff Hassler found a hole in the line and scampered in under the posts for another Seattle try. Staller remained perfect from the tee and the Seawolves capped off a 23-point unanswered run (34th minute).
To close out the half, Gaston Mieres was able to find space out wide for a Toronto score after the Seawall remained steady in the middle. Sam Malcom, Major League Rugby’s (MLR) 2nd leading conversion kicker behind Staller, adds the conversion as the whistle sounds to make it 23-7.
Toronto started the second half where they left off in the first with some strong defense and punishing offense. Lock Mike Sheppard read a Seattle pass perfectly and took the interception in untouched for a Toronto try. Malcom’s conversion made it a two-score game 23-14 (49th minute).
A defensive battle ensued as neither team would allow much positive play by the other until a penalty forced by an attacking Toronto allowed Malcom a chance to whittle Seattle’s lead to under a try with a penalty goal: 23-17 (60th minute).
Five minutes later, Staller is called upon again to get the lead back to manageable, but his angled penalty goal attempt falls short for a rare miss. Toronto failed to clear the ball out effectively and the Seawolves maintained possession near the Arrows 22-meter mark.
The ensuing line-out maul rumbled for 10 meters before stopping, but a Toronto penalty was called. The penalty allowed the Seattle forwards to maul in from a line-out yet again. Same scenario, the maul is relentless and gets close to the line before it is collapsed and the Referee awards the Seawolves a penalty try. A penalty try is an automatic seven points, no conversion is needed. Seattle’s lead is back to two scores 30-17 (68th minute).
The Arrows responded quickly and had a line-out of their own deep in Seattle territory. The quick throw was rushed in for an apparent try. The Television Match Official (TMO), being used for the first time in the postseason, saw a line-out infraction and the potential try was rescinded.
Close to the end of the game, Staller had another penalty goal miss the mark and on the ensuing drive, Toronto marched the ball back into the Seattle half. The Seawall forced yet another Arrow penalty. As the clock rounded 79 minutes, a Seattle scrum settled in for the final push of the day.
Seattle got the ball out and hoped to run out the clock, but Toronto managed to gain possession on a mishandled pass. Into extra time, The Arrows pounded away at one last gasp, but the Seawall would not allow another score, pushing Toronto out of bounds and the final whistle sounded. Final score: 30-17.
“Our focus will be to get onto the next job, we have to leave this one behind. San Diego is our next objective,” Toluta’u remarked, looking toward the upcoming week.
The defending champions find themselves in the final and on the road for the second year in a row. They will travel to San Diego to face the top-seeded Legion in the MLR Championship final on Sunday, June 16th. The match will take place at Torero Stadium, with kick-off at 1 p.m. PST.
Seattle Seawolves 30, Toronto Arrows 17
Tries: J. P. Smith (6’), Jeff Hassler (26’),
Penalty Try: No conversion, automatic seven points (68’)
Conversions: Brock Staller 2/2 (6’, 27’)
Penalty Kicks: Brock Staller 3/5 (4’, 15’, 34’)
Man of the Match: Jeff Hassler
Tries: Gaston Mieres (38’), Mike Sheppard (49’)
Conversions: Sam Malcolm 2/2 (38’, 60’)
Penalty Kicks: Sam Malcolm 1/1 (65’)