By Colton Stickler
In the largest match of the inaugural Major League Rugby season, the Glendale Raptors stood tall.
The first-place Raptors (7-0) put their undefeated record on the line against the second-place Seattle Seawolves on Saturday night at Infinity Park in a match that decided the top of the MLR standings two weeks ahead of the MLR Playoffs.
With so much to play for right in front of them, the Raptors knocked off the Seawolves (6-2) 33-11. Glendale swept the season series and kept their record unblemished.
According to Glendale head coach David Williams, the Raptors were able to turn that pressure into defensive pressure which played a big part in their ability to win the game.
“Just pressure,” he said. “Our defensive line speed, getting off the line, being more physical, winning the collisions, and then they’d turn the ball over and we can make opportunities that we can score points on which is awesome.”
While the Raptors escaped with the win, Saturday night’s match followed a bit of a different blueprint than it did in the Week 2 meeting, a meeting that the Raptors won 19-15 grinded out in the pouring rain in Seattle. This one came down to two streaks, and Glendale’s happened to be longer.
The Seawolves, in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the last time these two clubs met, jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half. The Raptors didn’t trail at all during the Week 2 meeting between the two clubs.
According to Williams, the Raptors didn’t rely too much on their first meeting with the Seawolves when it came to his latest game plan.
“Only a little bit,” Williams said. “Obviously, they [kept] the same kind of style, pattern of play. You look at that a little bit, but you really look at their more recent games and how we prepare for that. Obviously, we look[ed] at how they play[ed] against New Orleans, how they play[ed] their previous games. They lost a couple of players to internationals as well, so you just kind look at how they played there most recent games and we prepare accordingly.”
It took around 35 minutes for the Raptors to get warmed up, but when they finally did they rattled off 33 unanswered points.
In a match that the Raptors offense wasn’t operating properly early on, their first try of the game came by way of their defense when outside center Chad London poached the ball out of the ruck and took it the other way for a long try. After flyhalf Maximo de Achaval’s conversion, Glendale struck back with another try just three minutes later when hooker Zach Fenoglio rode a driving maul into the in-goal to give the Raptors the lead into the half.
Glendale never looked back.
When it was all said and done, the Raptors were able to hold the Seawolves to less points than the first time the two clubs met despite not doing much different.
“In the first half I thought they could’ve gotten away from us a little bit more than they did. We were lucky to go into halftime ahead. They didn’t really offer anything in the second half to be fair. We kept them out at the end which is really good. It shows good culture, good ascendency on the fence which is awesome. I’m really happy with that.”
The Raptors used the momentum that they built up in the last five minutes of the first half to get right back to work on the other side of the break.
Outside center Chad London equated the ability to blow the game open to possession.
“Holding onto the ball,” London said. “We lost our way a little bit (in the first half). We would go multiple phases and then cough the ball up basically. Holding onto the ball, being a little bit more decisive in our running, in our attack play. On defense just holding them back. They are a good team, a good defensive team, good attacking team. Defensively I think we stepped up huge and that helped us moving forward.”
When a Seawolf was presented a yellow card, the Raptors kept their foot on the gas. De Achaval exploited the Raptors’ man advantage with a grubber into the in-goal that was jumped on by London for his second try of the match.
The Raptors finally put an end to their 33-point streak when Connor Cook rumbled into for the final points of the match.
From there on out, Glendale relied on their defensive tenacity to put the stamp on the game. They forced Seattle into several penalties in the final 20 minutes to walk away with the victory.
The Raptors will attempt to finish the regular season undefeated as they head to San Diego for a match against the Legion next Saturday, June 23 at 8 PM MT.