Colton’s Corner: Week 13 Featuring A Conversation with Brock Staller
Colton’s Corner will be a weekly feature on five topics from around MLR.
San Diego Throttles Glendale
This match was one that I think caught everyone by surprise. Glendale and San Diego battled to a 28-28 draw the last time the two clubs met at Infinity Park back in March in what was one of the best games of Major League Rugby’s second season. Saturday’s match was a different story. Of all the fixtures this weekend, this was the only one that wasn’t really close. The Legion made the Raptors pay for every mistake that they made and that was reflected in the final score. San Diego has been on a tear all season and with as handily as they beat Glendale, it doesn’t look like they are slowing down anytime soon. The Raptors find themselves in fifth place with 33 points in the table. They trail Rugby United New York by four points for the fourth and final playoff spot with five matches to play. Who is next up on the schedule for the Raptors? RUNY. Friday night’s match at Infinity Park could very well be what makes or breaks either of these team’s seasons.
RUNY Outlasts Utah
RUNY’s win over Utah was the perfect example of both of these team’s seasons so far. Utah has proven time and time again this season that they can hang with some of the top competition in the league. Unfortunately for them, they are just not there yet and only have one win to show for it as a result. They took RUNY, an eight-win team, down to the wire on Saturday and walked away with a 24-22 loss. Despite only having two losses on the season, RUNY finds themselves in fourth place due to their lack of ability to pick up bonus points. The four-try bonus point they picked up on Saturday was only their fifth of the season and, in the unfortunate event that they wind up missing the playoffs, it will be because of their lack of ability to produce bonus points. They’ve played every opponent that they’ve faced extremely tough, and as I mentioned above, Friday night’s match against Glendale has the potential to be extremely important down the line.
Toronto Secures First Home Win Over Houston
Toronto picked up their first-ever home win on Sunday afternoon against the Houston SaberCats to get back to an even 5-5 on the season. Their win puts them in position to make a run at the fourth and final playoff spot, but they are going to have to string some wins together as the season winds down. The Arrows have beaten every team that they were supposed to this season, but they haven’t shown the ability to defeat the teams above them in the table. They’ll have a great opportunity to break that bad habit next weekend when they host the Seawolves in a match that could help them make up some serious ground in the table. Houston managed to make things interesting like they have a handful of other times this season, but like the Warriors, just weren’t able to finish the match. They weren’t able to come away with a bonus point, but continue to show that they are heading in the right direction as the season winds down.
Seattle Outlasts NOLA
I think it’s safe to give Sunday night’s tilt between the first-place NOLA Gold and the defending champion Seattle Seawolves was one of the best matches of the season. It was an instant classic that featured a bit of everything. It featured tries, defense and Brock Staller even put on a kicking clinic for all the kids in attendance on youth night. It showed that Seattle can find ways to win even when the tries aren’t easy to come by. NOLA demonstrated that they will give their opponent hell until the final horn sounds. They applied pressure well past the 80-minute mark and made Seattle’s ‘Seawall’ prove what they were made of. Seattle answered the call. We may have witnessed, at the very least, a potential playoff match on Sunday night. We would be extremely lucky if we had the opportunity to watch the playoff version of a rubber match between these two sides in a little over a month.
My First Trip to Starfire Sports Stadium and a Conversation With Brock Staller
Sunday’s match between Seattle and NOLA was also my first trip to Starfire for a Seawolves match. I hit the lottery.
After hearing all the tales about the atmosphere at Starfire during Major League Rugby’s inaugural season, I knew I had to make a trip out to the Pacific Northwest to see what it was all about for myself.
It lived up to the hype.
I got in early Saturday morning and went down to scope out the grounds, watch Seattle’s captain’s run and talk to a few of the Seawolves before the match on Sunday. I made sure to ask everyone what I should expect before my first match at Starfire.
“A lot of noise,” Seawolves’ wing Brock Staller warned me. “A lot of passion. I think it’s going to blow your mind a bit, to be honest. It will be cool.”
I arrived at the pitch a little more than an hour before kickoff to meet up with Richard Martin, co-founder, and director of Rugby 100 Club, and Christian Jacobsen, a Seawolves’ season ticket holder for a pre-match beer and a conversation about how things operated on match day.
Fans make their way from the restaurant, the food trucks, and the pregame activities outside of the stadium and into their seats 30 minutes before kickoff. After some music, pyrotechnics and the teams take the field, the crowd sings The Star-Spangled Banner. As Martin explained to me, an unfortunate technical difficulty left the first person they brought in to sing it without a working microphone. The crowd jumped in to help and have made a tradition about singing it ever since.
Witnessing the scene at Starfire on Sunday evening was all the proof I needed to know that
MLR is going to work. Growth has been slow and steady, but Sunday night was a glimpse into what the league is transforming into. The match featured two of the premier teams in the competition and lived up to all the hype. It was a match that the fans deserved.
I knew that if I was going to make a trip up to Seattle, I was going to have to talk with Staller before I left. Every league needs a star and watching the way the fans treated Staller on Sunday night let me know that the star could very well be him. Parents brought their children down to the path between the locker room and the pitch to scream for him as he trotted out for the second half. I waited for him for a solid 15 minutes as he chatted, gave hugs and took pictures with fans along the outside of the pitch after the match.
After being one of the top scorers in the MLR in Year 1, he’s picked up right where he left off in year 2. He kicked six penalty goals and a conversion to bring him up to 148 on the season with five matches to play. His 30 conversions rank second behind NOLA’s J.P. Eloff and his 21 penalty goals rank second behind Houston’s Sam Windsor. He’s added five tries on top of that to create the 33-point cushion between him and Eloff, who is the league’s second leading scorer with 115 points. Read more about our conversation below.
How did you find your way to Seattle?
“I started playing rugby when I was about 14 in Vancouver and eventually played with the provincial team. I was at the University of British Columbia and that’s kind of what catapulted me to get here. I ended up getting some caps with the national team and I got a call from Curry Hitchborn for the Seawolves and I made my way down here last season.”
How do you like Seattle so far?
“It’s awesome. It’s very similar to being back home whether it’s in Vancouver or Victoria.”
What’s it like playing at Starfire?
“It’s unbelievable. It’s tough to describe really. We’ve really set the standard in the league. The fans are so loud. SO many people outside of rugby are now fans of rugby because of what (Seawolves owner) Shane (Skinner) has built here. It’s electric. This place is packed. There’s a lot of noise. It’s a real fan-friendly, family-friendly environment.”
What is your overall impression of MLR’s second season?
“There was a lot of hurdles and growing pains from last season for all the teams whether it was training venues, stadiums to play at and stuff like that. The level of professionalism has really gone up. There are better players and better coaches. At the same time, there are a lot of American coaches being developed as well. That’s the end goal obviously is to have more American-based college players making their way to the MLR, coaches and referees. Those are the big things that I’m hoping to see keep see improving into Year 3.”
Is there any pressure around the club as you guys try to defend your title?
“Not really to be honest. It’s kind of just been the same with all of our team values and everyone’s belief in our team. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of pressure. The fans are supportive. We’ve been fortunate to not going into a losing streak or spell but I’m sure they’ll always be there with us. We just keep our heads down and go to work.”
What does s being the league’s top scorer mean to you? Is there any pressure that comes along with that?
“It’s kind of in my job description to score points. I am a back three player and I’m a kicker as well. I should be up there if I’m playing well. I’m not too concerned about the point totals, to be honest. Honestly, I just want our team to win and play well and that’s what makes me the happiest. To see the forwards maul over a try or see one of the other backs making a break, that’s what get’s me excited because it’s another opportunity to score points as well.”
What’s something about the Seawolves that people might not know?
“I think that we have probably the best cohesion out of any other team. There are a lot of people from different countries; Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, Canada, the U.S. We’re very diverse in that sense and I think it’s really strengthened our bonds across the board. Every team has had their own struggles and issues with the start of this league and into Year 2 but I think that the fact that we are so diverse in that sense has really helped bring us together.”
What did you think about this week’s action? What did I miss? I would love to hear from any and all MLR fans as the season moves along. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any MLR related topic that might be on your mind. I’ll address any emails in the next week’s Colton’s Corner.
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