The ninth-best Raptors match is also one that comes with a bit of baggage. It is also the only loss on the list.
While the Raptors didn’t come away with the result that they wanted in the 2018 Major League Rugby championship match, there are several reasons why the 23-19 loss to the Seattle Seawolves should be included on a list like this.
First of all, the match was fantastic. I had everything you would want in a championship rugby match. It had long, beautiful tries and it had ugly, dirty tries. It had staunch defensive efforts by both teams and it had well-thought-out gameplans. It had drama from start to finish and when the dust settled it was the Seawolves that walked away victorious.
On top of it being a great game, an appearance in a championship match – especially the first championship match of a brand new league – is nothing to be ashamed of. Being disappointed in the result is understandable, but the significance of the match is one of the reasons it belongs on this list. In what was a turning point for rugby in the United States, it was the Raptors and the Seawolves that stood front and center and put on a show for rugby fans everywhere to enjoy. It was not only an extremely important match in the club’s history but an extremely important match for the United States as well.
From the perspective of Major League Rugby, the league couldn’t have asked for a better first final. Not only was the match highly entertaining and competitive, but it was also the third chapter in what turned out to be the first great rivalry in the MLR. When you think about the 12-week timeframe that the league had to work with, to have a rivalry as heated as the one that originated between the Raptors and the Seawolves is pretty impressive. A rivalry adds some validity to the league and this match, obviously, played a huge part in that.
The Raptors defeated the Seawolves in two regular-season meetings that took place between the two sides in 2018. It’s hard enough to beat a team twice in the same season, and as the Raptors learned, it’s even harder to beat the same team three times.
The momentum shifted several different times in the 2018 MLR championship. Just when it looked like one team had a leg up on the other, something would happen and the match would head in a different direction.
After several minutes of back-and-forth rugby, it was the Seawolves that struck first when fly-half Peter Smith hit a penalty goal to give Seattle a 3-0 lead.
That lead was shortlived, though, as the Raptors used their patented driving maul that allowed hooker Zach Fenoglio to score his first try of the match. Fly-half Will Magie’s conversion gave the Raptors a 7-3 lead heading into the 14th minute, but the scoring see-saw was far from over.
Just before the 20-minute hydration break, Seawolves hooker Ray Barkwill answered Fenoglio’s try off the driving maul with one of his own as he snuck down the blindside for Seattle’s first try of the match.
It looked for a moment as if Seattle was about to take control of the match when fullback Mat Turner put the cap on a beautiful pattern with long try down the touchline, but it was called back when the television match official determined that Vili Tolutau obstructed Peter Dahl’s tackle attempt.
Instead of heading into the locker room with a potential eight-point lead, the Seawolves clung to an 8-7 lead at the half.
The first parts of the second half were a bit sloppy as the teams got comfortable once again. In what was almost a carbon copy of the try they scored in the first half, Fenoglio and the Raptors again used a maul to bully the Seawolves into conceding their first try of the second half to retake a 12-8 lead.
The Raptors struck again just a few minutes later when they turned a Seattle turnover into a try. After several phases in the Raptors territory, the Seawolves coughed up the ball and the Raptors kicked it deep into Seattle territory. A good kick chase saw the Raptors all of a sudden on the attack and eventually ended in a Bryce Campbell try right between the posts.
Magie hit the conversion to give the Raptors a 19-8 lead heading into the second hydration break.
With their backs against the wall, the Seawolves went to work. They scored two tries in five minutes to take a 20-19 lead and then Smith added some cushion to the score with a penalty goal in the 68th minute.
While the Raptors had their chances in the final 12 minutes, they were not able to find the in-goal one more time and the Seawolves held on for the victory
Tries: Ray Barkwill, William Rasileka, Riekert Hattingh
Conversions: Peter Smith (1/3)
Penalty Goals: Peter Smith (2/3)
Tries: Zach Fenoglio (2), Bryce Campbell
Conversions: Will Magie (2/3)
Penalty Goals: N/A
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