Rugby New York Wins MLR Championship Over Seattle Seawolves

Rugby New York won the 2022 Major League Rugby Shield Championship 30-15 over the Seattle Seawolves on June 25 at Red Bull Arena. The match was broadcast on Fox, and internationally on The Rugby Network with a 24-hour delay in the U.S.

Both teams entered the match with four-game winning streaks, after winning their respective Conference Finals. Rugby New York defeated the New England Free Jacks 24-16, while the Seattle Seawolves defeated the Houston SaberCats 46-27. Rugby New York also defeated the Seattle Seawolves 30-22 on May 15, the team’s last loss.

Rugby New York had the best road record in the league (9-1) and focused on the match as if it was an away match, staying in a hotel before playing in this neutral venue in the Metropolitan New York area.

The home crowd, which mirrored the average attendance for MLR matches, saw a thrilling match with New York playing against the two-time Shield Champions, the Seattle Seawolves, who were undefeated in six prior playoff matches. Both teams proved to be worthy opponents of a championship final and should be proud of their accomplishments.

Rugby New York warmed up in their Ironworkers T-Shirts, whose work ethic the team tried to emulate during the six-month season, which took them from practicing in the cold, removing snow at times, and ending with a championship at the start of summer in hot, humid conditions.

Fans still wanted to be part of the championship experience in spite of the draw of the beaches, and other summer attractions. Area club teams also had teams competing in various sevens tournaments.

Red Bull Arena is a premier venue to host a championship as they have hosted two previous rugby events. In 2016, the Saracens played the London Irish in an English Premiership regular-season match in front of 15,000 fans and the following year the USA Men’s National Team played Ireland with 22,000 fans in attendance.

The cost of the venue, however, means it is meant for special rugby events until MLR area attendance warrants this larger venue.

Match Recap

The Seawolves kicked deep to Antonio Kiri Kiri to begin the match with Nehe Milner-Skudder clearing to touch. Seattle attacked from a lineout and a New York penalty set up an attacking lineout just outside New York’s 22-meters. Twelve phases later, Martin Iosefo scored near the corner with AJ Alatimu’s conversion wide, 0-5.

The ensuing restart was gathered by Dan Kriel, but soon after Andy Ellis scooped up a loose ball with the ball going wide right to Waisake Naholo. An Eliis box kick went off Martin Iosefo into New York’s hands. A grub kick ahead by Brendon O’Connor was grounded by Ross Neal, resulting in a New York 5-meter scrum. A couple of phases later Will Tucker scored with Jason Emery adding the extras for a Rugby New York 7-5 lead.

A high tackle on Mat Turner led to a 24-meter penalty goal by Alatimu for Seattle to reclaim the lead, 7-8. New York had an opportunity to retake the lead a few minutes later, but Emery’s kick was wide right.

Rugby New York then had multiple players touching the ball and offloading before an Emery grub kick was taken by a Seattle player into touch. This resulted in a New York attacking lineout about 10-meters from in-goal. From the ensuing maul, Ellis waved for Naholo and Emery to join and the Seawolves collapsed the maul prior to scoring, resulting in a penalty try, 14-8. This also had Seawolves lock, Rhyno Herbst being sent to the bin.

Six minutes later, New York made their first substitution with Kalolo Tuiloma coming in for Wilton Rebolo. They also had an attacking lineout in which Antonio Kiri Kiri was held up in goal, resulting in a Seattle goal drop.

The Seawolves had a scrum deep inside their own 22-meters with Alatimu clearing to Nehe Milner-Skudder. Ellis moved the ball to the blind side of the breakdown and Jack Heighton offloaded inside to Andy Eliis for a try with Emery converting to push the lead to 19-8.

The Seawolves had one last scoring opportunity after a box kick by JP Smith was dropped by Milner-Skudder with Ross Neal gathering and sending the ball wide left to Riekert Hattingh. After a penalty advantage, Alatimu kicked for the corner for a Seawolves lineout. The team mauled and then went through picks by their forwards before a turnover in the breakdown allowed New York to kick the ball out and go to the locker room with a 19-8 lead.

Second Half

Rugby New York struck first in the second half with a Jason Emery penalty goal to extend their lead to 22-8. The team then added a highlight video try following an inside ball from Ellis to Will Tucker with a Nic Mayhew pop pass to Brendon O’Connor to Dylan Fawsitt and back to Mayhew for the try, 27-8.

The Seawolves answered back with a try by tighthead prop Sam Matenga with Alatimu adding the extras, 27-15.

With Seattle deep inside New York territory, Will Tucker was sent to the bin. Seattle attacked from a scrum about 12-meters out with Brad Tucker scoring an apparent try. Referee Frederico Anselmi called for a TMO and ruled no try. Andy Ellis returned to the pitch following a HIA and Wilton Rebolo also returned for Tuiloma.

Rugby New York would score once more before the end of the match from a Sam Windsor drop goal to push the lead to 30-15. That’s the way the match would end with New York claiming their first MLR Championship.

The Player of the Final went to Andy Ellis, who had announced his retirement during the week on The Rugby Wrapup.

After the match, Rugby New York was awarded the MLR Shield, they chanted and performed a haka for the crowd. The team’s majority owners are the Bolton’s based in New Zealand with owner Guy Bolton in attendance.

Squads with Player Article Links & Match Preview with Player Bios

Rugby New York: 1 Chance Wenglewski 2 Dylan Fawsitt 3 Wilton Rebolo 4 Ben Bonasso  5 Nate Brakeley (C) 6 Will Tucker 7 Brendon O’Connor 8 Antonio Kiri Kiri 9 Andy Ellis 10 Jack Heighton 11 Andrew  Coe12  Jason Emery 13 Faasiu Fuatai 14 Waisake Naholo 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder 16 Kaleb Geiger 17 Nic Mayhew 18 Kalolo Tuiloma 19 Nick Civetta 20 Joe Basser 21 Conor McManus 22 Sam Windsor 23 Quinn Ngawati

Seattle Seawolves: 1 Mzamo Majola 2 James Malcolm 3 Sam Matenga Samu Manoa  5 Rhyno HerbstAndrew Durutalo 7 Travis Larsen 8 Riekert Hattingh (C) 9 JP Smith10 AJ Alatimu 11 Martin Iosefo 12 David Busby 13 Dan Kriel 14 Ross Neal 15 Mat Turner 16 Sean McNulty 17 Kellen Gordon 18 Taniela Tupou 19 Brad Tucker 20 Tommy Clark  21 Reid Watkins 22 Tavite Lopeti  23 Lauina Futi

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