The regular season has come to a close in the second season of Major League Rugby, and the Semi Finals are now set to be played this coming Sunday. This past weekend saw four teams in the running for three spots and in the end there was no complicated math required, with all three qualifiers earning their places outright.
There was record-setting support for the Arrows at Lamport Stadium on Sunday, with nearly 3,200 showing up to watch them defeat Rugby United New York in dramatic fashion. Toronto led 12-7 at halftime thanks to tries from Dan Moor and Spencer Jones. New York came back to take a 20-12 lead by the hour mark, but a cheeky quick-tap try from Andrew Ferguson took the Arrows back to within one and Sam Malcolm slotted a 77th minute drop goal to kick Toronto into the Semi Finals, final score 22-20.
In the end it wasn’t enough to earn hosting rights, though there was some discussion to that end after it emerged that their opponent – the Seattle Seawolves – could not book their regular home venue this coming Saturday. Instead the game will be played on Sunday evening, with the Championship Final set for Sunday, June 16 at the home of the highest seed. An Arrows win combined with a New York upset over San Diego would see the Final hosted in Toronto, though San Diego enter as favorites in the second Semi Final.
Indeed New York’s losing bonus point was enough to see them through. It was a nervous wait for RUNY fans as San Diego hosted New Orleans later that afternoon. The late withdrawal of Canada’s Kyle Baillie and key playmaker Scott Gale before kickoff damaged the confidence of the Gold, and they lost captain Eric Howard to a head knock just before halftime. San Diego’s defense stood strong and the final score read 22-10 in favor of the Legion, earning first place overall and home field advantage throughout the Championship Series.
The other match of consequence on Sunday saw the Seawolves clinching second place overall with a 38-26 bonus-point win over Austin Elite. Djustice Sears-Duru and Jeff Hassler each scored tries for Seattle, who led 38-7 in the 65th minute, while Brock Staller was a perfect 6-from-6 off the kicking tee to finish the regular season with an MLR record of 204 points. Nakai Penny, Phil Mack, and George Barton also started for the Seawolves with Jake Ilnicki playing most of the second half as a replacement.
Austin’s season ends with zero wins and there will be some restructuring at the club with former USA star Todd Clever named the new Director of Rugby during the week. Travis Larsen scored a first half try with brother Josh also starting for the Elite. Aidan McMullan was summoned from the bench mid-way through the first half, and Moe Abdelmonem scored a try in a strong 25-minute second half effort.
In Saturday’s only game, the Houston SaberCats made it four straight wins to end the season with a 31-27 win over the Utah Warriors. Earlier in the week Houston defeated Glendale 32-17 in a rescheduled game that spelled the end of the season for the Raptors. If Noah Barker returns to Glendale next year it will be with a new head coach as the club confirmed the departure of Dave Williams on Monday.
Sunday’s Semi Finals will both be broadcast on CBS Sport Network, with a live stream on the official MLR Facebook page available to Canadian viewers. The Arrows game will also be broadcast nationwide on GameTV. With seven Canadian internationals set to line up for Seattle opposite Toronto, the second Semi Final will be of interest not just to viewers but national selectors with spots in the World Cup squad still up for grabs.
SEMI FINAL SCHEDULE
Rugby United New York at San Diego Legion
Sunday, June 9
2pm PT, 5pm ET
Toronto Arrows at Seattle Seawolves
Sunday, June 9
6pm PT, 9pm ET