Pro rugby arrives in Seattle Sunday

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.

 

Seawolves preview and rugby primer at https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/other-sports/rugby-anyone-seattle-seawolves-begin-play-in-new-pro-sports-league/

 

 

Another USA opponent welcomed

Japan World Cup team attends welcoming ceremony at Brighton Dome.  (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images for ER2015)
Japan World Cup team attends welcoming ceremony at Brighton Dome.
(Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images for ER2015)

The Japan team has arrived in England and been welcomed at the Brighton Dome.

Japan has a tough opening in the tournament, facing South Africa on Sept. 19 at the Brighton Community Stadium. Japan and the USA Eagles meet on October 11 in Gloucester, the last game in pool play for both. Don’t want to jinx either of them, but I’d bet one or both will be trying to dodge a 0-4 record for World Cup play.

The rest of Pool B will present hefty challenges to both Japan and the United States: South Africa, Scotland and Samoa.

The U.S. team plays Samoa on Sunday, Sept. 20; Scotland on Sept. 27; South Africa on Oct. 7 and finishes with Japan on Oct. 11.

Got word on Facebook from USA forwards coach Justin Fitzpatrick that the team was in the air (in O’Hare in Chicago, actually) and headed this way.

From the England Rugby 2015 news release about the welcome ceremony for Japan, there is no mention of the team performing Kabuki theater or anything else. Maybe the pressure is off the U.S. to perform song and dance in response to “World in Union” on Sunday. Hope the team gets over jet lag faster than we did or they may be best suited to performing “Leave me, loathsome light” from Handel’s opera Semele.