The Seattle Seawolves have made it two Major League Rugby titles from two attempts after clinching a dramatic 26-23 victory over the San Diego Legion at Torero Stadium at the University of San Diego on Sunday [PT].
After claiming the inaugural title last year, it took an 81st minute try to former Waikato, Taranaki and Manawatu lock Brad Tucker from a rolling maul to seal a second successive crown, with a conversion to Brock Staller, who landed three of his four shots at goal, the icing on the cake.
Tries to South African trio hooker Stephan Coetzee, halfback JP Smith and No. 8 Riekert Hattingh helped the visitors dominate for large parts of the contest, although they had to come from behind inside the final 15 minutes after a try to former Waikato and North Harbour loose forward Jordan Manihera pushed San Diego out to a six-point lead.
Staller’s only missed kick at goal of the match came after Hattingh’s try in the 72nd minute, meaning the Seawolves trailed by one point in the closing stages.
That buffer was strengthened to four points thanks to the boot of veteran South African playmaker Joe Pieterson two minutes from time.
Earlier in the half, Pieterson had converted a try to USA Eagles wing Nick Boyer, and kicked both of his penalty attempts at goal, but that was not enough to halt the persistence of a tenacious Seattle outfit.
The result means the Seawolves, who finished in second place behind the Legion at the end of the regular season, remain MLR’s only champions to date following their 23-19 final win over the Glendale Raptors last year.
Seattle will look to chase a hat-trick of titles in 2020, when the competition expands for the third time in as many years.
Following the inclusion of the Toronto Arrows and Rugby United New York – both teams which made the semi-finals at the first time of asking – this season, the league will grow from nine to 12 sides next year through the additions of the New England Free Jacks, Old Glory DC and Rugby ATL.
A 13th team, to be based in Dallas, Texas, will be introduced in 2021.
San Diego Legion 23 (Tries to Nick Boyer, Jordan Manihera; 2 conversions and 3 penalty goals to Joe Pieterson)
Seattle Seawolves 26 (Tries to Stephan Coetzee, JP Smith, Riekert Hattingh, Brad Tucker; 3 conversions to Brock Staller)
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