17 Jun Legion Fall to Seawolves in Final Seconds of MLR Championship
SAN DIEGO, CA – The top-ranked San Diego Legion had the defending champion Seattle Seawolves on the ropes in Sunday afternoon’s Major League Rugby Championship game.
With just under two minutes to play, Legion fly-half Joe Pietersen nailed a penalty goal to give San Diego a 23-19 lead. The lead, which appeared to be the difference in the match, was supposed to be the finishing touches on a match in which the Legion battled back from a 14-6 halftime deficit.
Unfortunately for the Legion, it was the Seawolves who had the last offensive serge as Seattle used a last-minute rolling maul to defeat the Legion 26-23 and secure their second-straight MLR Championship Shield.
The Legion got the scoring started on Sunday afternoon when Pietersen nailed a 42-meter penalty goal in the sixth minute to take a 3-0 lead before settling in and trading blows with the Seawolves for 10 minutes.
The next five minutes of the match were littered with scoring opportunities for San Diego. Those scoring opportunities started in the 15th minute when Pietersen attempted his first drop goal of the match, but he was unable to convert. After pinning a lineout deep into the Seawolves territory, the Legion went to work by pounding the ball into the Seattle defense and even found their way over the try line but were ultimately held up and turned the ball over three minutes later. Pietersen nailed his second penalty goal of the match in the 20th minute to give the Legion a 6-0 lead heading into the first hydration break.
While the Legion controlled the possession and the scoring during the first 20 minutes of the match, it was the Seawolves who did exactly that in the second 20-minute stanza. Seattle found their way onto the scoreboard in the 22nd minute when outside center George Barton burst through the Legion and spun a pass to hooker Stephan Coetzee who rumbled in for the first try of the match. Wing Brock Staller hit the conversion to give the Seawolves a 7-6 lead.
Seattle followed up that score with another try when they threw a short lineout to scrum-half J.P. Smith who slipped through the Legion defense and into the in-goal in the 32nd minute. Staller’s conversion put the Legion in a 14-6 hole heading into the half, but San Diego wasn’t done yet.
“The half time message was simple.” said coach Rob Hoadley, “We had played an outstanding first 20 minutes of the game, dominating possession, territory and scoring opportunities. After 20 mins we missed two regulation tackles on 1st phase to allow tries. Although we were behind on the score board, we felt that we had the capacity to choose our response to that. We responded well by winning the second half 17-5 until the last play of the game. All credit to Seattle for the final play.”
After the half, it was the Legion that came out on the front foot. After applying pressure early, San Diego was rewarded for their hard work when J.P. du Plessis broke through the Seattle defense and passed to Jasa Veremalua. Veremalua spun the ball out wide to wing Nick Boyer who dotted the ball down in the corner. Pietersen nailed the tough conversion to cut Seattle’s lead to just one point in the 52nd minute and into the 60-minute hydration break.
The Legion went back to work after the water break when they pinned a lineout deep into Seawolves territory. They secured the lineout and established a rolling maul that both gobbled up 20 meters and moved them into the center of the pitch. San Diego finished the job a few phases later when eight-man Jordan Manihera picked the ball out of the back of the ruck and reached his outstretched arm in for another Legion try. Pietersen’s conversion gave the Legion a 20-4 lead with only 15 minutes to play.
Seattle found a way to regain possession and capitalized on a San Diego penalty late in the match. After kicking to touch down in the Legion’s red zone, the match would ultimately come down to the result of one lineout. The Seawolves secured the lineout and established a 13-man rolling maul that proved to be too much for the Legion defense. Brad Tucker scored the try, Staller hit the conversion, and the Seawolves walked off the pitch as back-to-back MLR champions.
“A final isn’t about where you’re heading, it is about where you are now. We felt we had all the tools to win the final, but ultimately came up short. What this does do for the future is add fuel to our fire of our motivation.” Hoadley said. “Congratulations to Seattle who have done an incredible job over the past two seasons. They have set the standards we must aspire to next season.”
San Diego Legion
Tries: Nick Boyer, Jordan Manihera
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2/2)
Penalty Goals: Joe Pietersen (2/2)
Drop Goals: Joe Pietersen (1/2)
Tries: Stephan Coetzee, J.P. Smith, Riekert Hattingh, Brad Tucker
Conversions: Brock Staller (3/4)
Penalty Goals: N/A
Drop Goals: N/A
Watch the full re-play of the game here.