Seawolves Use Last Minute Try to Secure Back-to-Back Championship Titles
It took every bit of the 80 minutes on the clock, but the Seattle Seawolves used a last-second try to stun the San Diego Legion 26-23 and secure their second-straight Major League Rugby Championship Shield.
Just a week earlier, the first place Legion were on the receiving end of a try in the same endzone that knocked off Rugby United New York and secured an opportunity to host the MLR Championship match. On Sunday, they found themselves on the losing end of a driving maul that Brad Tucker finished off to send the Championship Shield back to the Pacific Northwest.
“It was crazy, man,” Seawolves wing Brock Staller said after the match. “That last 15-20 minutes for myself personally was kind of an emotional roller coaster. I had a bit of a slip-up and I just kept telling myself, ‘What’s important now? What can I do in this moment for us to be successful?’ Just tried to keep those demons out of my head.”
A shot at back-to-back championships almost went out the window. After Seawolves eight-man Riekert Hattingh rumbled in for a try in the 73rd minute, Staller was unable to hit the tough conversion and Seattle found themselves on the wrong end of a 20-19 score heading into the final minutes of the match.
With the ball deep in Seattle territory, San Diego took what the Seawolves gave them when Legion fly-half Joe Pietersen nailed a drop goal that extended their lead to four points with just two minutes to play.
Seattle never quit and capitalized on a Legion penalty on the ensuing possession.
“Fortunately, we got a penalty in their end,” Staller said. “I hopped in that maul with those guys and started moving and said, ‘You know, we are actually going to score here.’”
“I think one of the main things has been small errors and discipline,” Pietersen said after the match. “I think with bad discipline, you can see it by the penalty count, you’re going to let yourself down. You can see it in these big games.”
Despite the skewed penalty county, the Legion only conceded four penalties to the Seawolves five, they knocked the ball on 11 times while the Seawolves only knocked the ball on five times, it was the Legion that controlled the first and last 20 minutes of the match.
San Diego controlled the possession through the first 20 minutes and were rewarded with a 6-0 lead on two Pietersen penalty goals heading into the 20-minute hydration break.
Seattle then used two tries, one from Stephan Coetzee on a big line break from George Barton in the 23rd minute, and one from J.P. Smith on a short lineout in the 32nd minute. Staller nailed both kicks to give the Seawolves a 14-6 lead heading into the half.
After some back and forth, the Legion scored their first try of the match on the other side of the break when Jasa Veremalua spun a pass out wide to wing Nick Boyer. Pietersen nailed the kick to bring the Legion within one.
They put the pressure on the Seawolves again in the 63rd minute when they rode a big driving maul deep into the Seawolves territory. After a few phases, Jordan Manihera scooped up the ball and dove in for the go-ahead try.
That try lead to Hattingh’s try, which ultimately led to Pietersen’s kick and then the closing drama that ensued. When the dust settled, the Seawolves were hoisting the shield again.
“Patience,” Staller said of his team’s effort in the closing minutes. “Family. Belief in each other. We’ve gone through tough times, as I’ve said in the past. Last season. This season. Coaching changes. Some off-field issues. But you know what, that resiliency you saw in the last five minutes really defines our season.”
San Diego Legion
Tries: Nick Boyer, Jordan Manihera
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Joe Pietersen (2/2)
Drop Goals: Joe Pietersen (1/1)
Tries: Stephan Coetzee, J.P. Smith, Riekert Hattingh, Brad Tucker
Conversions: Brock Staller (3/4)
Penalty Goals: N/A
Drop Goals: N/A
Colton can be reached at email@example.com.
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