Seawolves Hold Off First-Place Gold
The fans that piled into Starfire Stadium on Sunday evening to watch the Seattle Seawolves take on the first-place NOLA Gold knew that they were in for a treat.
In what very well may have served as the preview of the 2019 Major League Rugby Championship, the Seawolves (8-2-1) earned a bit of revenge over the Gold (8-3) in the form of a 25-24 victory. The Gold took the first meeting between the two sides 41-31 in New Orleans back in February in what was Seattle’s second loss of the season. They’ve only lost one since then and had to hold off a hard-charging Gold team as the match wound down.
“It’s massive,” Seawolves’ wing Brock Staller said after the match. “New Orleans is the top team in the table. It’s a big win for us and hopefully keeps propelling us to a strong finish in the regular season.”
Staller was a busy man on Sunday evening. He drilled all six of the penalty goals and the one conversion that he attempted, leading all scorers with 20 points. He was also the man that got the scoring started when kicked his first penalty goal at the 20-minute mark to put the Seawolves up 3-0.
NOLA responded to Staller’s kick with a try when hooker and captain Eric Howard rode in a Gold maul into the in-goal. Fullback J.P. Eloff nailed the conversion to give the Gold a 7-3 in the 25th minute.
Howard’s try was the first of four for the Gold in the match. Despite outscoring the Seawolves four tries to one, the Gold couldn’t get out of their own way and Staller ultimately made them pay.
“The difference would be our discipline,” Gold outside center Taylor Howden said. “We scored four tries and they scored one so we let them off the hook with penalties. If you do that against these guys, a guy like (Seawolves) Brock (Staller) who can nail it from anywhere, you’re going to have a tough time winning.”
Staller and the Seawolves responded to NOLA’s first try penalty kicks in the 29th minute, the 34th minute and again in the 40th minute to take a 12-7 lead into the half.
“It was a bit of a slow start for us,” Staller said. “We had our opportunities but when you play a quality team like that is a lot more tactical, more kicking, more putting the ball behind because it’s a bit more structured, we made the best of our opportunities. There are things that we can still work on but that’s what next week is for.”
NOLA turned up the heat on the other side of the break, but it wasn’t until the Seawolves’ eight-man Riekert Hattingh finished off a Seattle maul with their only try of the match. Staller’s conversion put the Gold in a 19-7 hole in the 47th minute, and that was the wakeup call NOLA needed to get their offense going.
The Gold answered back by demonstrating some of the skills that they’ve consistently put on display all season long. After sending the ball back and forth across the pitch, inside center Con Foley punched in NOLA’s second try of the match in the 50th minute before wing Tristan Blewitt punched another one into the in-goal just four minutes later. Eloff was unable to hit two conversions, but the Gold cut the Seawolves lead to just two heading into the 60-minute hydration break.
With NOLA hot on their heels, Staller got back to work with his boot. He hit his sixth and final penalty goal in the 77th minute to put the match on ice by giving the Seawolves an eight-point lead with just a few minutes to play.
Not only did Staller’s kick put the match seemingly out of NOLA’s reach, but it also ripped the Gold’s bonus point away from them. Instead of deflating, the Gold worked their way back down the pitch and produced a try when Kevin Sullivan rumbled in in the 79th minute. Eloff’s conversion cut Seattle’s lead to just one point with seven seconds to play.
With one more possession to steal a win in Seattle, the Gold sent the ball back and forth across the field, searching for a weak spot in the Seawolves defense, for four minutes before coughing up the ball on a handling error and ending the match allowing Seattle to walk away with a 25-24 victory.
“Just confidence,” Staller said of his team’s ability to hold off the Gold. “Backing each other. A lot of teams, when they go down, they get frustrated and turn on each other basically. We just stick together. We are a big family out there. That’s why we are so successful.”
According to Howden, NOLA’s ability to snatch two bonus points in crunch time and valiant effort to complete the comeback is something that they can be proud of.
“We talked about it at the end,” Howden explained. “As much as we lost the game, I think we can take a bit out of it. At the end there it showed a bit of resiliency; a bit of character and we can be proud that we fought all the way through the full 80 which has kind of been a bit of an issue for us this season. At the end of the day if our discipline isn’t there, then we’ll just leak points off the boot.”
The two bonus points that the Gold picked up in the loss provided them with a bit of cushion in the MLR table heading into Week 14, which will also serve as a bye week for NOLA. They remain in first place with 45 points on the season, four points ahead of both the San Diego Legion and the Seawolves who sit in second and third place, respectively.
“I think we’re just going to peel it all back, stop being pretty and just get to the nitty-gritty,” Howden said of his team’s focus heading into the bye. “Go hard. Run hard, tackle hard. Good rugby.”
The Seawolves will look to continue their winning streak next week when they travel up to Toronto to take on an Arrows side that is quietly sneaking back into the playoff picture.
“We’ve got to recover, watch a bit of film and clean up some of our mistakes this week and we will be okay against them,” Staller said.
Tries: Riekert Hattingh
Conversions: Brock Staller (1/1)
Penalty Goals: Brock Staller (6/6)
Tries: Eric Howard, Con Foley, Tristan Blewitt, Kevin Sullivan
Conversions: J.P. Eloff (2/4)
Penalty Goals: N/A
Colton can be reached at email@example.com.
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