Seawolves, Raptors lead Major League Rugby

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Major League Rugby
The Glendale Raptors rugby team practiced at Infinity Park Thursday evening,June 2, 2011 in Glendale. The Raptors are hosting the USA National Rugby Finals this weekend. By winning Saturday they would advance to the finals. Karl Gehring/The Denver Post (Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Seawolves and Raptors lead Major League  Rugby with four wins each.

As the inaugural season of MLR reaches its halfway point, Seattle (4-1-0) holds first place with 21 table points, while Glendale (4-0-0) trails close behind at 19.

The Seawolves suffered one loss at the talons of Glendale (19-15) on April 28 in the lowest-scoring match of the season thus far. Meanwhile, the Raptors remain undefeated heading into Sunday’s match against NOLA Gold.

Glendale has the second-highest average points per match in the league (31.75), with Seattle trailing close behind (31.50). Both teams are tied at third for average tries per match at 4.00.

Regarding all other team stats, Glendale and Seattle are usually in the top half of the leaderboard, although neither team leads the league in many categories.

Surprisingly, the Seawolves spend the most average time per match in their own half (31.51 minutes). The Raptors have the lowest average possession percentage per game (47.25).

Where does the success come from?

Spending too much time in their own half or having the least amount of possession out of any team can become crucial factors of a team’s record. Yet somehow, Glendale and Seattle manage to remain on top.

The Raptors have dealt with various roster changes. John Arthur of glendaleraptors.com reported that two starters, back row Connor Cook and lock Ben Landry were suspended for three weeks after receiving red cards in the home opener against Austin Elite.

“It challenges the depth of the squad and gives other guys a chance to step up,” Glendale Head Coach Dave Williams told the Raptors website. “The team certainly did that against Utah.”

Injuries have taken several starters out during the first half of the season, including team captain Shaun Davies. 19-year-old Jake Christmann stepped up to replace the veteran scrumhalf:

“It’s unfortunate that Shaun was injured, but we knew we needed a backup 9,” Williams told the Raptors site. “Jake stepped up and did well. We’ve also got Kevin Lynch on the bench, another new player just brought on, who came on board with some much-needed energy. I’m pretty happy across the board to be honest.”

While it’s difficult to attribute just one aspect of Glendale’s strategy to its success, adaptability to circumstances and a talented depth chart seem to be a big help.

The Seawolves are afloat at the top spot. For now.

Seattle appears to remain comfortable on defense, holding the opposition back until they see opportunities to capitalize. They’ve managed to hold four out of five teams to under 30 points, the only team managing to break over being the Utah Warriors at 32 points on May 20.

“Operating back at full power, a crushing tackle from Phil Mack fired the crowd up and the Seawolves are able to win the ball back,” seattleseawolves.com said about a play in their May 27 victory over NOLA Gold.

Key plays in Seawolves territory seem to be something of a normal occurrence for Seattle:

“The home crowd was again treated to an exciting display of rugby with 13 minutes to play in the match,” Seattle’s website said. “Pinned inside their own five-meter line, the Seawall set up to keep NOLA from breaching the try line. A strong counter-ruck from Mozac Samson allowed Turner the boot to touch and set up the lineout at mid-field for NOLA. The Gold’s throw went over and found John Hayden instead, making one defender miss before being tackled.”

Seattle garners quite the fan-base, too. It may not fully affect what goes down on the pitch, but it’s worth noting they sold out their match against Utah. Fans are said to be “setting the tone” and “energizing” the team. When a fan-base is active, it’s usually a good indicator that a team is doing something right.

The rest of the season is for the taking.

For a brief period, it seemed Seattle and Glendale were separating from the rest of the pack. No other team has been able to defeat Seattle.

With Austin Elite Rugby (3-3) now in third place after their 41-33 win versus Utah, the top spot is anybody’s.

Austin Elite and Utah are electric on the attack. Elite’s Hanco Germishuys leads MLR with 6 tries. Germishuys’ team has the second-highest average tries per match (4.20), short only to Utah at 4.60. Utah also leads the league in average points per match (32.40), possession percentage (53.20) and territory percentage (54.80).

Seattle faces the Houston Sabercats tonight at 9 p.m. ET. The match will be on CBS. Other select matches are broadcast on CBS, ESPN and localized-broadcast channels.

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