The Glendale Raptors, oft-touted championship contenders throughout the inaugural season of Major League Rugby, have made good on their reputation: the team travels to San Diego this weekend to take on the Seattle Seawolves. In the league’s first championship bout, the top two teams will compete for the distinction of being MLR’s best. The Raptors defeated the Seattle side twice in the regular season, first in April on the Seawolves home field, and again in June at Infinity Park. Showing winning resolve late in the season, however, the Seattle team won’t go down without a fight.
Not discounting the Raptors’ well-deserved accolades, the Seawolves have had an impressive inaugural season. Though they trail the Glendale side in league points entering the championship, Seattle boasts the second-best record in Major League Rugby, an honor well earned. Saturday’s match will without doubt pit the top two professional American rugby teams against one another. Raptors team captain and scrum half Shaun Davies says that consistency will be integral to a championship victory: “One of the biggest things in this match is not to change too much – keep doing what’s brought us success,” he said. “We know we’ve got to play finals football and we know we’ve got to stay structured, but we just need to do what got us here in the first place.”
Raptors Head Coach David Williams echoed those sentiments, adding that the Colorado side has slightly altered their training protocol in preparation for the match: “We have actually gone a bit lighter with our volume and increased our intensity.” He continued, saying that playing at sea level might give the Raptors an edge: “We love the advantage we have coming from altitude. The boys will love running around with big gulps of air in their lungs,” he said with a grin. Several of Glendale’s players have also recently returned from a sweep of the June test series as USA Eagles, scrum half Davies among them. Questioned on how to translate that momentum into a championship win, Williams is complimentary but challenging: “The Eagles had three great games: against Russia, and especially Scotland, and then they hammered Canada. They bring that energy and confidence back into our training sessions. We’re rolling. We’re not ready to be finished with the season to be quite honest.” Not exactly fighting words, the Raptors coach does make clear that the Glendale team has more rugby to play before MLR’s first year comes to a close.
Physicality has been the predominant winning characteristic in Major League Rugby, and that won’t change with this weekend’s championship. Asked where the match would be decided, Davies says the Raptors have to allow themselves to implement what they’ve practiced: “A big thing for us is patience with ball in hand. We know we have to go through the phases, we know we have to win the physicality. If we do that, we’ll have a lot of success.” Williams again echoes his team captain: “If we don’t win the physicality in any game of rugby, we won’t be successful. Scrums and line outs will be huge. Seattle pride themselves on their scrum, so if we can hold them there, like we did in the first and second games against them this season, we will do well.”
The match, hosted at San Diego’s Torero Stadium, will kick off at 7pm Mountain Time. Catch the live broadcast on CBS Sports Network, and be sure to follow the Raptors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for all the latest news and updates.