Major League Rugby Championship Final Preview
Written by Joe Harvey | Top pictures by Getty Images and Quinn Width
Ahead of the Major League Rugby Championship Final presented by NuArca Labs, MLR heard from a member of each team that will go toe-to-toe on Saturday afternoon.
Being played at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, the game will see Rugby New York as the home side in their first Championship Final and the Seattle Seawolves make their way from Washington to compete for their third MLR Shield, as the Championship game is hosted on the east coast for the first time.
Broadcast live on FOX, over 100,000,000 homes in the United States of America, while viewers in other territories can watch the game via The Rugby Network. Tickets to attend the match at Red Bull can be purchased here.
RUGBY NEW YORK VS SEATTLE SEAWOLVES | SATURDAY 25 JUNE, 12:00 ET, RED BULL ARENA, FOX
It was on Sunday afternoon that Rugby New York confirmed their place in the MLR Championship Final. Tries from Benja Bonasso, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Andrew Coe all contributed to the 16-24 comeback victory over the New England Free Jacks in Quincy, Massachusetts.
The second time in less than a month that New York went to Veterans Memorial Stadium and picked up a win, their victory sinking the first seed in the Eastern Conference and meaning that the MLR Championship Final will be hosted by Marty Veale’s side this Saturday afternoon.
A significant part of the New York machine, Dylan Fawsitt has been a part of the team’s journey from the start. Even captaining the side in 2020 and 2021, the USA international is looking forward to the prospect of playing in front of a home crowd this weekend.
“Being one of the only two members left from the inaugural day with New York, it has been a long time coming,” Fawsitt said.
“To represent the greatest city in the world, and do it in the big dance is really, really special.
“What has always stood through my time here is that we have always had quality men involved in this organization, especially on the field.
“We have always come together and done it for each other. To be able to be part of an organization, especially a professional rugby team in New York city, to leave my mark and build something from the ground up is phenomenal.
“We haven’t always got it right, but we have learned, we have got better and we have always had that mindset of growth. There is always that drive to be the best that we can be and have that opportunity now, this weekend, to showcase that in a special place.
Photo by Getty Images | Rugby New York
“It is going to be such a spectacle for the game here in the States, especially in front of our family and friends at home.”
Fawsitt’s father, Brian, will add to an already special occasion by making his way from Ireland to New York and watch his son play in a second MLR Championship Final.
Coming off the bench in 2018 when the Glendale Raptors lost 19-23 to the Seawolves in the first final, the hooker will no doubt be hoping for better fortunes than all those years ago.
Playing Seattle just once so far this season, it was New York that ended that game at JFK Stadium as 30-22 victors. Set to play their first home game since Rugby ATL came to New Jersey and subjected their hosts to a 3-38 loss at the end of May, in playing Seattle this weekend, the 31-year-old and his teammates will be preparing intensely to take on the two-time champions.
“If we stay consistent in everything we do, we just make sure that we leave no stone unturned this week, nailing our detail and going in there with that clear mindset of knowing our roles, that we can perform to the best of our abilities,” Fawsitt said.
“That is something we have been striving for, to get that 80-minute performance, and if we keep reaching to get there and nail that, I really feel we can go that one step further.
“What I can be really proud of with this team is how we have dealt with adversity over the years. The way that our men have handled certain situations, they have been the ultimate professionals.
“It is a real credit to the character of the man and player we have in this squad, and I am really proud to be a part of it.”
For the Seawolves, their journey to the Championship Final has come just weeks after the team was out of the race entirely. In their final game of the regular season against the Houston SaberCats, who they vanquished in the Western Conference Final in Texas 46-27, Allen Clarke’s team were knocked out of contention for the postseason.
It was only following the disqualification of the Austin Gilgronis, and then the LA Giltinis, that Seattle were the home side in their Eliminator Round fixture with the San Diego Legion, and now just several weeks later, the team will travel to the east coast in the hopes of adding a third star to their jersey.
Lifting the MLR Shield in both 2018 and 2019, this is familiar territory for Seawolves captain, Riekert Hattingh. Each game was a close-run thing, the boot of Peter Smith influential in the 2018 victory, while in 2019 it took Brad Tucker’s try with nearly 90 minutes played to outscore the San Diego Legion in front of a California home crowd.
One of just several players to have been around for each of those victories, the Eagle believes that some inspiration can be drawn from their two prior successes heading into this weekend.
“I can’t really remember what it was like in the week leading up to it, to be honest,” Hattingh said.
“All I can remember is keeping the fight to the end. Both of those games were won in the last seconds of the game, and it was just about knowing your job and when that opportunity comes, knowing how to execute.
“That’s what lineout moves you need to do, whatever strike move you need to get, because opportunities in a final don’t hang around.
“They come around, so just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, so that when that opportunity comes, to strike. That is basically it. There is not too much.
Photo by Quinn Width | Seattle Seawolves
“Just keeping the bodies fresh, keep the focus on, have a good training week and the result will follow.”
Given their success’ in MLR’s first and second seasons, the 2020 and 2021 seasons were hardly vintage Seawolves. Introducing Allen Clarke as Director of Rugby part way through last season, this Seattle team seems to be peaking at the right time.
Now having won their last four games, their last loss being to New York in May, meaning that like their opponents this weekend, Seattle head into Saturday’s encounter in top form. More than anything else, for Hattingh, the 28-year-old is thankful for all associated with the Seawolves this week.
“It is special for the franchise, the ownership group, the management and everyone that has been there,” Hattingh said.
“We don’t have a whole load of guys left from either one of those groups in the first or second year, but for me it is special playing in a final three times. It doesn’t come around a lot.
“It just goes to the testimony of everyone involved with the Seawolves since year one; the ownership, management, medical staff, coaching and a good group of players.
“We are all aware of the results the Seawolves have had over the last couple of years, we had a building phase the past two years, and it feels like we are just clicking at the right time. It is just a special moment.”
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Written b y Joe Harvey | Top Picture by Davey Wilson
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rugby new york VS SEATTLE SEAWOLVES | saturday, june 25 at 12:00
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