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.
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.
Peter Steinberg, CBS Sports rugby commentator, insisted during the Seattle Seawolves game against the New Orleans Gold May 12 that poor tackling on the part of the southern team led to their 31-29 defeat.
And 100 percent perfect tackling would mean no tries scored and certain victory — or nothing worse than a 0-0 tie. But poor tackling can have two causes. The defenders might be slow, weak or easily got around, as Steinberg seemed to imply about NOLA. But some players are just hard to tackle. Some players like William Rasileka, Shalom Suniula, Will Holder, Matt Turner, Peter Tiberio, Peter Smith. Those Seawolves backs cut up the NOLA defense to combine for four tries. Smith was the perfect kicker, connecting on all four conversions and a penalty. (Steinberg also rightfully pointed out that NOLA could have tied the game with one more successfully kicked conversion or won if one of their missed penalty kicks had gone through.)
None of those Seattle tries would have been scored if NOLA tacklers had been more proficient, but the quick steps, deceptive passes and well executed plays of the Seattle backs made the NOLA task daunting.
And Seattle’s game is an exciting one to watch. Major League Rugby liked this score enough to name it the try of the week:
But for my money, the Seattle movement that starts at 2:00 in the video below is a lot more fun to watch:
On Sunday, the Seawolves face the Utah Warriors at sold-out Starfire Stadium back home in Tukwila. (5:30 PDT)
The Seawolves had to hang on to the very end to get the win against NOLA, and from the MLR game report on Utah’s win last week over Austin, it sounds like Seattle better be prepared to hang around to the end again if they want a victory. Austin’s Hanco Germishuys summed it up this way: “It just came down to the end. At the end Utah had more pace than us, more passion to get that win. In the second half we had that 20 minutes but then we started falling off.”
For Seattle on Sunday, there can be no falling off.
Let’s start with Vili Toluta’u, named to this week’s Major League Rugby’s all league team. In Saturday’s game, the senior at Central Washington University popped out of the Glendale Raptor’s maul with the ball several times, contrary to the way things usually happen when a team settles in to drive down the field and instead gets a hard-running Hawaiian champagne cork flying at the scrum half. Makes him all-league open side flanker for the week.
Ray Barkwill and Tim Metcher take two of the three spots in this week’s all-league front row. The Canadian hooker and Australian prop are like stakes in the ground in the set scrums, holding firm until a second row like Taylor Krumrei, a University of Oregon alum, puts them in motion, driving low and forward. Taylor made the all-league team for the week, and Olive Kilifi could have filled out that other front row spot as far as I’m concerned. He’s a solid block of muscle and experience. (And I apologize for calling him Olive like the green things in a glass jar. I’m told by a person in the stands who says he knows Kilifi’s cousin that it is pronouced O-leave-eh.)
Four of the eight forwards on the all-league week’s team from Seattle. Add to that William Rasileka out in the backs. The Fijian played for his national side in 15s and 7s and came to Seattle in 2011 to play for Old Puget Sound Beach and then the Seattle Saracens. Nice to have him still in town, steady in defense and dangerous with the ball in hand.
With five of the 15 all-league roster coming from the Seawolves, it does raise the question: Why didn’t they win on Saturday?
That’s probably best answered by looking at the rest of the week’s rep side. There you will find the names of Harley Davidson (hooray for his parents if they decided on Harley) at wing and Maximo De Achaval (kudos to his parents as well) at fullback. Davidson had the second half try that put the Raptors up 16-3.
The answer to the question is complete when you look at the player of the week (who mysteriously does not get named onto the team of the week — what am I missing?). Here’s what the league said in naming the week’s top player:
“Glendale’s Zach Fenoglio earned Player of the Week honors. Fenoglio showed off tremendous versatility by starting the match at flanker and finishing at hooker. The Denver native converted a crucial try to help lift the Raptors over the Seattle Seawolves and start the season 2-0.”
Add in two penalty kicks from Glendale’s Will Magie, strong Raptor defense and lots of Seawolves handling mistakes, and you’ve got your answer.
Still, they persisted, scoring as time ran out. That try brought the Seawolves within seven points of Glendale (19-15), close enough for a bonus point in the standings (also awarded to a team that scores four tries in a game). That could be a crucial difference come playoff time (June 30 and July 7).
When the score was 3-16 favor of the Glendale Raptors, the Seattle Seawolves had a chance to come back Saturday, April 28, and win their second game of their inaugural Major League Rugby professional season.
Just two tries and two conversions, and they would have a one point win, 17-16.
Wouldn’t that be exciting?
And Vili Toluta’u obliged with a second-half try and Brock Staller hit the conversion for a 10-16 score. One more try, one more conversion and the deed would be done.
It would be a reversal of how things had gone for most of the game for the Seawolves. The Glendale defense kept the Seattle backs penned up, and Seattle’s speedsters resorted to more kicks than the crowd would have liked. But when playing in your own end, kicking is usually the best way out of trouble. The Seattle running game mostly ended with the rain-slicked ball slipping through Seawolves’ hands (flippers?).
Two penalty kicks by Will Magie of the Raptors and a try by Zach Fenoglio had the Colorado team up 11-0 before Staller opened Seawolves’ scoring right before half with a penalty kick.
In the second half, the man with the best name in American pro rugby, Harley Davidson, added five with his try to get the game to that hopeful moment for the Seawolves.
But after the try by Toluta’u, who had been all over the field all night on defense and with the ball, Magie added another penalty kick that doused Seattle hopes like the heavy falling rain.
A try at the final whistle by George Barton closed the scoring and the game at 19-15 for Glendale.
The Seawolves have a bye next week and then are at New Orleans on May 12. On May 20, they return to Starfire Stadium in Tukwila to face the Utah Warriors and then the New Orleans Gold at home on May 27.
Two of my favorite things from the game Saturday: Just before the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, a V of geese flew over the stadium right over the color guard, a perfect flyover for the Pacific Northwest.
I also liked that the crowd sang the national anthem. That’s the way it should be done instead of having some professional do it while the crowd waits to see if the singer can hit the high notes at the end. The person beside me in the stands said our version Saturday sounded like a round with one side of the field coming in behind the other side, but hey, we raised our voices instead of shuffling from one leg to the other.
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.
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.
Predicting the outcome of a game between two rugby teams in their first regular- season pro games in a new league’s first ever weekend of competition is a foolhardy task to attempt, something that would only occur in the mind of a journalist restless on the night before the game.
I plead guilty. Here goes:
The Seattle Seawolves have sold out Starfire Stadium in Tukwila for their game Sunday at 5 p.m. against the San Diego Legion. For Seattle, it’s the first pro rugby ever played in the city.
San Diego had a taste of Pro Rugby – in capital letters as a proper name – in 2016 when that effort had a one-year existence. The San Diego Breakers were part of that league, and Matt Hawkins, who has been a highly visible part of American rugby for more than a decade, was an assistant coach. He reappears in the Legion organization as the general manager. Anyone who has seen Hawkins play knows he is likely to have a hard-nosed team at Starfire on Sunday.
It’s hard to get a sense of the Legion’s roster from the team web site, which is by far the worst in Major League Rugby, but from reading the match reports of their pre-season games, some names stand out. Cam Dolan at Number 8 appears to be a forward who can run in the open and score. Nate Augspurger at scrum half, Ben Cima at center and Taku Ngwenya on the wing are described as backline “firepower.” Tadhg Leader, the place kicker, looks steady. The Legion beat Austin Elite, 32-24, and lost 33-17 to the Houston SaberCats, led by former Seattle Saracen coach Justin Fitzpatrick.
Seattle comes into game under player-coach Phil Mack, known up north as “The Little Magician.” He took over coaching duties after Tony Healy, also from Canada, ran into visa troubles. Whether three weeks running the team has been enough time for Mack to mold a winner gets put to the test Sunday. Pre-season competition has been limited to a 47-7 trashing of the Prairie Wolf Pack, apparently a team of masochists out of Calgary as they traveled on to an 80-12 drubbing Friday at the hands, feet, shoulders and whatever else MLR’s Utah Warriors chose to apply to the Pack’s backsides.
A track meet like the Seawolves’ win over the Wolf Pack has the benefit of showing what every move, play and stratagem looks like in perfect execution against little defense. It has the disadvantage of lacking the kind of competition that reveals what happens when opponents disrupt perfection and your team must pick up the pieces and innovate – the real beauty of rugby.
Asked to make a prediction about Sunday’s game, Seawolves co-owner and operator Shane Skinner was at his political best: “The guys have trained incredibly hard so I predict they are going to put out their best possible effort – 100% confident on that!”
Having seen the Seawolves at practice, I know Shane is correct. They are a hard-working bunch. Shane sets a good example that even a journalist should follow:
I predict both teams will play at full speed and will not disappoint the 3,500 plus fans at Starfire on Sunday. See you there.
(Video caption: Drummers from the different contradas lead fans to Siena’s Piazza del Camp.)
Saturday, July 1, 2017: Clear the way, tourists. Stand aside, Siena residents not from il contrada Giraffa. Our drummers are headed for the Piazza del Campo. We are the champions.
Or so they were on July 2, 2017, when that parish/neighborhood in the Tuscan city of Siena won the Palio, reputed to be the oldest horse race in the world. The event attracts thousands of tourists leading up to the two summer dates when the races are held, July 2 and August 16. As for bragging rights in Siena, nothing else matters. The horses are blessed in the contrada churches. The place is packed. The odds might be stacked. The crowds go wild.
(Video caption: Enthusiasm rules the day at the Palio.)
We wanted to be in Siena for the main event on July 2, but the ticket prices ($1,000 for a bleacher seat) were out of our range. So we settled for July 1 and a preliminary race.
Nonetheless, it was a memorable day – and Cole and Kathy each added antics to make it so. And no day with a horse race can be a bad day in my book.
The drive from Montepulciano to Siena took way less time than finding a parking place. All the lots set aside for visitors were full. We finally lucked out when we stopped behind a car pulling out of a street spot. Then came a half hour of trying to figure out the parking pay machine with a Frenchman who had had similar luck and was similarly stumped. With four of us and two languages, we finally cracked the code.
On our way to the piazza, I bought two scarves like those race fans were wearing and immediately became a backer of the Istrice (porcupine) contrada. Then a shopkeeper told us that the neighborhoods represented by my scarves were not racing this year. This after wandering around the city trying to find the neighborhoods where “our” flags were flying. They weren’t. Only 10 of the 17 contradas race each year. Ours didn’t make it through the lottery that selects who will race.
But in our wandering, we visited the city’s most famous cathedral, did some shopping and jostled with the crowds in the narrow streets, which was nothing compared to what was to come.
I rushed us into the piazza about 90 minutes before the 7 p.m. race to be sure to get a good spot along the infield rail. The race is three times around the Piazza del Campo, which is converted into a dirt track between the free standing room in the infield and the bleachers up against the buildings surrounding the central plaza. The windows of the apartments around the piazza are probably the best places for seeing the race – and the most expensive.
In the next two hours, 60,000 or so people joined us inside the infield barriers. Fans are allowed on the track before the race. Restaurants set up tables for dining al fresco. Drinks are served.
We were in the shade, but it was hot. Anyone in the Palio infield should ”give up all idea of personal space,” travel guru Rick Steves writes in his guidebook. Little kids crawl under you and climb up the rail to sit on it right in front of your nose. People smoke, drink, shout, sing and carouse. But all seemed to be going well. Kathy, who has panic attacks in closed, crowded places, was keeping white-knuckle control on the situation. Cole was standing at the rail, anticipating the start of the race, and then he wasn’t. He just dropped out of sight into the crowd, which reacted to his fainting in very generous ways, clearing space around him, offering water, getting him into a sitting position and making him stay quiet until he regained equilibrium. I was trying to think how the call to his parents would go. Then he got up, more pale than the gray that would run later in the race.
“Everything was fine,” he said, “until I woke up and all I could see were people’s feet. Then I thought, ‘Oh no, I passed the fuck out again.’ ”
Thank you, Cole, for a concise rendering of events.
I had wondered how this dirt track, crowded with swaying drunks and laughing fans, could be cleared to make way for the horses. Then, on the other side of the circle from us, a phalanx of police started walking around the track, driving the rowdies before them. Where would those people go? There was no room in the bleachers for them. The infield would burst if one more person tried to squeeze in. Were they being swept into a drain at the end of the track?
In the short distance between the police and the cleanup crew that followed, Kathy’s panic attacked. She freaked, announced she had to get out of there, clambered over the rail and headed for the drain, breaking through the police line from behind and disappearing into the crowd.
A better man might have been angry, another man might have been hurt, but another man never would have let her go (thank you, Harry Chapin). I turned my attention to the race. It was post time.
The Palio races start with all the horses but one lined up behind a rope. The remaining horse is the starting horse (the movie “Palio” is great for explaining all this). None of the riders can start until the starter makes his break down the track and the rope is dropped. The trick is to have your horse facing in the right direction when the starter goes. That doesn’t always happen, and those not in positions trail the field. Negotiations with the starter before the race could be advantageous, I think. Just saying.We (Cole and I) were about halfway around the track from the start so we saw the horses and some of the riders blow by us three times for maybe 30 seconds total of close-up viewing. As they passed, every kind of camera equipment was hung out over the rail so close the jockeys could have snatched them away – and horse slobber on lenses was a very real risk.
I say some of the riders passed by. Others fell off. But that matters little since a riderless horse can win this race, which is what happened on this day. A tightly-packed muscular little black horse, sans rider, crossed the finish line first and some contrada somewhere went crazy. Actually, everyone in the city went crazy. Horses were paraded out of the ring by singing followers. More cheering and drumming as fans left the piazza.
We found Kathy through text messages. She had watched the race on a TV set up outside the piazza, which is where all the track occupiers had ended up, swept out an exit to try to find a place to watch the Palio, perhaps the best horse race in the world.
When I put out my list of Mad Schemes to accomplish in 2016, I had not planned on so many of my potential Schemers to be as nutty about work as I have been. I seemed to have been dropped into a pool of people who say they are retired except for when they are working.
“I’m retiring but I’ll still be working two days a week.”
“I’m retired but I’ll still be on call.”
“I’m retired but I signed up to substitute.”
“I’m retired except for the seven weeks I have worked this year and whenever the paper calls on me to cover a horse race or do a book review.”
That last one is my hypocritical statement about my retirement. The last part of that confused view is usually followed by my excited statement of how after 50 plus years of work life I have found the perfect job for me: Getting paid to read books.
And like all my friends who have one foot in retirement and one foot still stuck in work, I mouth the same trite excuses:
“It’s not so bad if you love what you’re doing.”
“Besides, the money’s good.”
“I’d be bored if I just sat around the house.”
I’ve never said that last one. That’s what the Mad Schemes are for, to make sure that you’re not just sitting around the house. Which I was not doing on April 3, the day of the Emerald City Bike Ride.
Sponsored by the Cascade Bike Club, the ride took thousands of pedal pushers onto the deck of the new Highway 520 bridge before it opened to motorized traffic. The ride continued onto the Interstate 5 express lanes to a food stop at the Hing Hay Park in Seattle’s International District. Then the ride introduced me to the I-90 Bike Trail. How did I miss that one?
Then back to the start at the University of Washington. About 20 miles with Jerry and Wendy, which was very enjoyable.
On Saturday, April 16, I was with Dr. Tim to do the Tulip Pedal out of La Conner, WA. But we stayed at his lake cabin the night before, and in the morning the sun had turned the lake into a big, beautiful jewel shining through the kitchen windows and Tim’s waffles were delicious with maple syrup. So the start was late and the end had to come soon to accommodate Tim’s 2 p.m. tee time. We dropped from the 40-some mile to the family ride and neither odometer came up with the mileage for that wienie ride. We probably didn’t even ride off the butter smeared on the morning waffles.
A great day, but also an early sign that my training for the Seattle to Portland ride was not on a path to make my sister proud. And she will be here soon for the STP and I’ll be lucky to stay in the same county with her. More on that later.
Before we left London, Kathy asked if going to the Rugby World Cup measured up to all my expectations — a question that surprised me since I thought the giddy smile on my face for eight weeks made my delight obvious.
Let me count the way, m’lady. Thirteen international rugby matches. Theater seats for London and Stratford-upon-Avon shows. Hiking the hills, punting the river, browsing through every sort of attraction covering history, art, religion, architecture and others realms of human achievement.
Yes, a definite success and then some.
Then we decided over a restaurant meal to break it down: list the top five favorite things we did while in England. We both ticked off five before the waiter got the first glass of water to the table. We were approaching more than 10 favorites apiece before our order was taken.
In keeping within the rules of naming only five, I tried to do categories, so that one of my five choices was “the rugby games,” another was “Oxford colleges,” another “plays.” Cheater, cheater, Kathy protested.
My answer to this was to offer to list five choices within each category, and of course I started with the rugby games I saw. My five favorites:
Scotland vs. Australia in the quarter final: If you take the measure of excitement generated in a game by how many times the lead changes, this match goes right to the top of the list. Four lead changes. Australia took an early lead, but Scotland took over for most of the first half and was ahead by one point at the break, 16-15. The teams were never more than eight points apart and most of the time were within three points of each other. Australia got up early in the second half until Scotland climbed back up to a 34-32 lead with under seven minutes to go in the game. Then came the bad call from the ref, a three-point penalty kick by Australia with less than two minutes left and that was the end of the tournament for Scotland.
New Zealand vs. Australia in the final: How can the culminating game of the tournament not be No. 1 on this list? It probably would be if the Scotland-Australia match hadn’t been one that had me jumping out of my seat and endangering my laptop on the media table in front of me. The final threatened to be a boring, let’s-play-it-safe, penalty- kicking affair through most of the first half. It wasn’t until the clock had ticked off more than 38 minutes that New Zealand put together a thriller try from the back of a loose ruck with Aaron Smith getting two touches and then skipping a pass to “he’s everywhere!” Richie McCaw, who made one more pass to put Nehe Milner-Skudder in for the score. The All Blacks got up 21-3 and it was starting to look like a rout until Australia put together two converted tries and pulled within four points. All Black Dan Carter stomped on the Aussie momentum with a drop goal at 69 minutes. Every winning team needs a player who can perform this score-from-anywhere-inside-the-50 tactic. Nothing is so soul-killing for a team to be scored against this way. And Carter wasn’t done. He added a penalty kick at 73 minutes and all that was left to complete the game was a mishandle by Australia, kicked ahead by Ben Smith and a bounce up into the hands of Beauden Barrett for one more New Zealand score and a conversion by Carter. 34-17 All Blacks.
The other quarterfinal — South Africa vs. Wales: Another close one. Most of the scoring came on penalty kicks, but the tries turned the fortunes of the game for both Wales and the Republic of South Africa. It went like this: 3-0 RSA, 6-0 RSA, 6-3 RSA, 9-3 RSA, 10-9 Wales (nothing like seven points from a converted try to get you back in the game), 12-10 RSA, 13-12 Wales (drop goal by Dan Biggar gave the Welsh the halftime lead), 16-12 Wales, 16-15 Wales, 18-16 RSA, 19-18 Wales, 23-19 RSA (nothing like five points from a try to get you the win). RSA 23, Wales 19.
Canada vs. Italy: Canada got up 10-0 to start the game, which included a try by DTH van der Merwe, who scored in all four of Canada’s losses. Owen Slot, chief rugby correspondent for The London Times, named him to his all-tournament team this week saying “his try-a-game tally showed consistency and the try he started and finished against Italy was outstanding.” Yeah-yeah, as the English say when in agreement. Too bad Canada couldn’t finish one more of some great movements. That would have given them at least a tie. But Italy won, 23-18.
Canada vs. Romania: Canada again? Yep. For an exciting game, it’s hard to beat a 15-point comeback. Just too bad that it was Romania coming back for a 17-15 win. You can’t look away from the train wreck and you don’t want it to happen, but you have say afterwards that it was exciting.