Maybe a silver lining in Seawolves’ poor 2020 start

The Seattle Seawolves, who were champions in the first two years of Major League Rugby, started the 2020 season with a losing record of 1-4 before the coronavirus ended play.

Hardly a good thing until MLR announced that the team selections in its first college draft would be based on the finish of the interrupted 2020 season. That puts the Seawolves picking fifth and 17th. If the order had been based on the 2018 and 2019 championship seasons, the Seawolves would have picked 12th and 24th in the draft’s two rounds.

“We get to keep the championship shield and pick fifth,” said Shane Skinner, owner of the Seattle rugby team.

He would not reveal whom they might pick or what position they were most interested in. But he said that being in the first five picks would assure them of getting a quality player out of the more than 400 players who have signed up for the draft.

“We’ve been doing a ton of research, talking to coaches and players who have played with these players,” Skinner said, “We feel our picks are within fulfilling our needs.”

Teams in Dallas and Los Angeles, who are joining the league for the 2021 season, were selected to pick first, but Los Angeles traded away their No. 2 spot to New Orleans. Houston has also traded away their two spots in the draft to Utah, who will have four picks. There could be more trades before the draft starts Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT on the league’s Facebook page.

The Toronto Arrows are not participating in the draft, depending on their own efforts to develop Canadian player. According to the MLR, “The Arrows decided to opt out of the 2020 Draft because of the strength of their own programs and the complications around collegiate athletes acquiring international visas to go to or come from Canada, especially during the current COVID-19 restrictions.”

Two players with Washington state connections are featured on the MLR website. Cole Zarcone, 23, from Camas, WA, played at Central Washington University, and Tommy Hunkin-Clark, 23, from Olympia, WA, played at American International College in Springfield, MA.

Any Seawolves interest in keeping them here?

“If I said anything about what our picks might be, the other teams would try to make sure that didn’t happen,” Skinner said.

 

Why aren’t U.S. national rugby games on TV?

The Friday night game between the United States and Canada’s national rugby teams had eight lead changes and four times during the match when the opponents were separated by one point before the U.S. Eagles ran in a last minute try to win 30-25.

It was, as a first-time rugby viewer said afterwards, a “great match.”

Which leads to this question: Right now I can go out in the TV room and watch Scotland host Wales; Italy versus England is next and the Vancouver Sevens prelims will be on later this afternoon. Six Nations coverage continues tomorrow with France at Ireland and the Major League Rugby is on with San Diego at Toronto and then Houston at Seattle’s home team, the Seawolves, at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, another sellout.

So why wasn’t the great match between the U.S. Eagles and the Canadians on TV, cable or otherwise where I don’t have to pay premium boxing/wrestling/martial arts fees to watch? At least having it on TV would get it into the local newspaper’s TV listing to show that an international match is happening right here in River City.

Wasn’t ignored on KING-TV, who did a great article on the two Seattle Seawolves who played in last night’s game at Starfire:

https://www.king5.com/article/sports/seawolves-teammates-on-opposing-sides-of-championship-game/281-8dacf189-b5e1-4660-9638-c42af8a76b36

The Eagles have three more games over the summer in the Pacific Nation Cup before they head into the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September. Will those games be on TV?

 

Speaking strictly as a fan, I’m enthralled

I didn’t cover the Seattle Seawolves game today as a journalist, so I feel like I can ignore all that stuff about no cheering in the press box. Which leads me to say that I love it when my team scores a converted try 56 seconds into the game after Vili Toluta’u jumped up to take the opening kickoff from the arms of the waiting New Orleans forward. Brock Staller and Will Holder were steady all day in kicking conversions and penalties.

I’m even happier when my team goes up 21-0 before 10 minutes into the game.

Nervous when New Orleans scores twice within three minutes before the half and then gets the first score of the second half to come within a try of the Seawolves: 31-26.

And so ended the New Orleans scoring for the day, but not the Seawolves’, who added another penalty, three tries and three conversions to take the win, 55-26.

I didn’t take any photographs today, but I did talk to Peter Tiberio, who was bloodied in last week’s victory over the Utah Warriors. I tweeted a photograph of that last week and was surprised to see him scarless after the game today while signing autographs for future rugby players and chatting to fans. Last week’s cut took eight stitches to close, he said, and was wrapped for today’s game. Give that doc kudos for keeping the lads pretty.

Tiberio
Peter Tiberio has healed from his head injury sustained against Utah last week.

The win today puts the Seawolves at the top of the standings over the Glendale Raptors, who did not play. The Seattle team will be in Texas for the next two weekends, against Houston next week and then Austin the following weekend. The regular season comes to an end on June 16 when the Seawolves play Glendale in Colorado, a game that could decide the league winner and could be a preview of playoff action on June 30 (in Glendale) for the semis and July 7 (in San Diego) for the finals.

Wherever the season goes from here, the four home games ended on a high note today, and I can’t wait for the return of the Seawolves at Starfire (or CenturyLink) in 2019.

Hoping my enthusiasm hasn’t destroyed anyone’s beliefs in my ability to be an objective journalist. When I’m on the clock, these guys are just another team (and they should have beat Utah, 41- 22, instead of 41-32, but I digress). Not on the clock? Hey, I’m human and a forever rugby fan.

 

 

 

Glendale to face Seawolves without 2 of their best

Scrum
The Seawolves’ scrum is close to scoring a try and all the San Diego Legion could do was collapse and wheel, prompting the referee to award Seattle a penalty try, one of three last Saturday.

When the Glendale, Colo., Raptors show up at Starfire Stadium to face the Seattle Seawolves this Saturday (April 28), they’ll be without two of their dominant players.

Ben Landry, second row, and Connor Cook, wing forward, have both been suspended for three weeks by Major League Rugby. Both Landry and Cook received red cards last Saturday for dump tackling – upending a player and driving him head first into the ground – during the Raptors’ 41-26 win over the Austin Elite.

Both Landry and Cook had scored tries before they were ordered out of the game, not to be replaced.

Landry has played for the U.S. national team, and when his MLR season ends, he’ll head off to England to play for the Ealing Trailfinders.

Cook played for the Waimea Rugby Club in Hawaii, for Arkansas State University and might have the best dreadlocks in rugby.

While not having these two players on the field might seem advantage Seawolves, Seattle fans might be wise to hold their glee in check. Despite losing Landry, Cook and then another player who received a yellow card at 73:35, the Raptors were able to prevent the Elite from scoring. Playing 12 men to 15 and keeping the 15 out of the try zone for almost 10 minutes indicates some defensive prowess.

Reikert
Riekert Hattingh

The Seawolves’ lineup will probably be missing Riekert Hattingh this week. He took a blow to the head during the first half of the 39-23 win over the San Diego Legion last week that left him staggering to the sideline with the help of medical staff. Before that, he had startled the San Diego backs and thrilled Seattle fans when he burst out the back of a San Diego ruck that seemed to have the ball well protected and ran 50 yards up the field before passing to his backs. He’s a thrill to watch, but safety says to keep him out for the week.

The Seawolves come into Saturday’s game riding a positive wave of good tidings. They were named the team of the week by Major League Rugby. Both Seawolves’ props, Kellen Gordon and Tim Metcher, made the league’s rep side of the week as did fullback Matt Turner. Player coach Phil Mack didn’t make the team of the week but he was named player of the week.

How does that happen?

Nonetheless, the league had nice things to say about Mack, who took over head coaching duties only a couple of weeks before the first game:

“Mack’s duties over the past few weeks have increased,” the league said. “Stepping into the lead coaching role, he built a game plan based around the Seawolves strength in the scrum. His agility and ball speed out of the ruck put the ball in the hands of his fly-half Will Holder for quick-play. Mack’s timely box kicks took the pressure off the Seawolves when they were within their own half.”

Seawolves’ management says the fan experience will be even better this week at Starfire. Twice as many beer and wine stands. More bathrooms. Another food truck. Lines on the field made more visible (they’ll be the blue ones).

But they promise the sunshine from last week?

Gates open at 5:30, and there is a curtain raiser between two youth clubs: Budd Bay vs. Liberty Club.

The game is sold out, but it’s the game of the week on CBS Sports Network. Kickoff and broadcast at 7:30 p.m.

(See last week’s game coverage in The Seattle Times.)

Seawall
Eric Duechle, Seawolves’ back row, called the Seattle defense “the Seawall,” which did not break in the game against San Diego. The Seawall appears to be built on numbers. Here the Seawolves have four men at the tackle.