No country for mixing rugby and biking

The idea was to ride my bike across Montana and North Dakota and keep track of the Seattle Seawolves rugby team at the same time.

It was an idea doomed to fail.

The Seawolves vs. Austin Elite game on Saturday, June 9, was not carried on TV networks available in Jordan, MT, (pop. 386). Especially since the game was played on Friday, June 8, which shows you how out of touch I was after four days of bike riding (246 miles). I heard it was a nail-biter with Seattle winning, 20-19.

And Seawolves vs. Glendale Raptors on Saturday, June 16, while in Lisbon, ND, (pop. 2,124)? Forget it. Yes, really forget it. Seattle lost 33-11.

But I did get to see the U.S. team beat Scotland, 30-29, which bodes well for the national team going forward. Maybe a win or two in the 2019 Rugby World Cup? That would be welcome across the land – even in Jordan and Lisbon, should they hear of it.

About this bike ride: It was not my idea. My sister gets credit/blame for that. It’s her goal/obsession to ride across all of the lower 48 states. We did Iowa and Nevada in 2017. Arkansas, North Dakota and the rest of Montana were on tap for 2018. I promised to ride across Arkansas with her, but our plans fell apart due to other priorities.

I said I would be support and gear/guidance (SAG) for her on Montana/North Dakota. But when her riding partner backed out, what kind of brother would I be if I left her pedaling alone somewhere between Great Falls, MT, and Fargo, ND?

KT at truck
Kathy preparing lunch the first day at the SAG wagon.

SAG duties fell to the spouses, and Kathy and Don can never be thanked enough.

JB and Don
With Don along the way in Napoleon, North Dakota.

It all started on June 4 when Kathy and I started the drive from Seattle. . .

 

 

Poor tackling? Or great running?

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.

Seawolves 1/3 of week’s all-league team

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).

Seawolves’ win seemed possible, but no

DefenseWhen 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.

Lineout.jpgIt 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.

CBS.jpg
Seawolves vs. Raptors was the game of the week on CBS Sports Network, and it was on the TV in the warm and dry snack bar in the Starfire complex. But sitting in the rain is the real deal, right? Right?

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.

Scrum.jpg

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/