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In a titanic struggle with fellow playoff hopefuls Rugby United New York, the Toronto Arrows kept fans on the edge of their seats until a 77th minute drop goal from fly half Sam Malcolm would secure a 22-20 victory for the Arrows, and that coveted spot in the finals. Toronto will kick themselves for not getting the bonus point try which could have secured them a home semi-final as well as allowing their rivals a losing bonus point. However, for a team’s first season in Major League Rugby they and their fans can still feel pleased and proud of a remarkable regular season that has shown that the sport of rugby union is in rather rude health in Toronto.

This was a punishing match from the outset with both sides evenly matched and literally throwing the kitchen sink at each other, as the game seesawed from end to end in the opening 15 minutes. New York would get the first points on the board through a relatively soft try as winger Mike St. Claire found himself in plenty of open space down the blind side.

Toronto would strike back ten minutes later through a lovely passage of play from their own lineout. Spreading the ball right across the field in some silky running and deft passing, winger Leandro Leivas would put his fellow winger and Captain Dan Moor in space through a brilliant one-handed offload after beating two defenders. Moor would touch down and although Sam Malcolm would miss the conversion Toronto were back in the hunt trailing 7-5.

Toronto would continue piling the pressure on New York and four minutes later after a prolonged period in New York’s 22, center Spencer Jones would spot a comfortable gap just outside the posts and dot it down for Toronto’s second five pointer. Malcolm would get the easy conversion and Toronto would draw ahead 12-7. Some heroic defending from Toronto would see them close out the half with their lead intact.

New York came out of the blocks firing after the break, and Toronto by comparison had what could only be described as a purple patch for the opening quarter of the second half. They seemed to lack focus and shape and New York took full advantage of the home side’s lapses in concentration. Once more Toronto’s habit of passing dreadfully flat against a rush defense cost them dearly, as a pass that was so obvious it was probably in the previous week’s papers, was intercepted by the visitors’ blindside flanker John Quill. The New Yorker ran completely unopposed for almost half the length of the field to jot it down between the sticks for a straightforward conversion.

Toronto continued to struggle to find their shape and with it their discipline, allowing New York’s fly half Cathal Marsh two relatively simple penalty kicks and enabling the visitors to pull ahead 20-12.

A shot of espresso in the Arrows water bottles was clearly called for and seemed to have the desired effect as the team regained their composure in the 65th minute. Toronto would exert some genuine pressure on the visitors as they set up camp in New York’s 22. It had the desired effect as New York began to lose their discipline. A quick tap penalty from replacement scrum half Andrew Ferguson would see the number nine dive across for Toronto’s third try. Malcolm would not miss with the boot and all of a sudden the game was on a knife edge at 20-19 for New York and 14 minutes left on the clock.

The next ten minutes would see a pitched battle between two evenly matched sides, with neither able to gain the advantage. Then in the 76th minute with Toronto applying another period of sustained pressure in New York’s 22, fly half Sam Malcolm would drop into the pocket and slot the perfect drop goal. The stands erupted as one, and Toronto had that all important lead, albeit by a mere two points with three minutes left on the clock.

Toronto would maintain their composure in the dying minutes of the game, despite New York piling on the pressure. Toronto held firm and after a dominant scrum by the home side in the 80th minute, Andrew Ferguson would kick it into touch knowing that Toronto’s big adventure would continue beyond this, the final match of the regular season.

While Toronto will kick themselves for going off the boil for that crucial opening quarter in the second half, as well as not getting a bonus point try and at the same time allowing their rivals a losing bonus point, it was a historic win. The jubilation on players and fans’ faces alike was there for all to see. The party is not over yet and while there is still plenty of work to do and things to fix, there is no denying that this has been a dream start for Canada’s first team to compete in Major League Rugby.

Toronto now face a tough trip out to the Pacific Northwest to face Seattle’s Seawolves in the semi-finals. Toronto comfortably beat Seattle when they came to York University’s Alumni field in April, but in Seattle it was a tight contest back in February which saw the Seawolves who are defending MLR champions come out on top.

Whatever happens next Sunday in Seattle, Toronto rugby union fans have been treated to 8 glorious games of rugby, and the Arrows have made some real inroads into the city’s sporting landscape this spring. We have thoroughly enjoyed turning out every Sunday since April and wish the boys all the very best in Seattle this coming Sunday. Furthermore given the fact that so many of the team are from Ontario, it has done wonders for the profile of the sport in the province. In addition, many of the players who have made their presence felt over the last few months, are likely to be on the plane to Japan in three months time to represent Canada in the World Cup. They’ve made us proud and we have a hunch they’re not done yet! And as for next season…….WE CAN’T WAIT!!!!!

The scorers:

For Toronto:

Tries: D. Moor, S. Jones, A. Ferguson

Conversions:  S. Malcolm 2

For New York:

Tries:  M. St. Claire, J Quill

Conversions:  C Marsh 2

Penalties:  C Marsh 2

Toronto:  1 Rob Brouwer, 2 Andrew Quattrin, 3 Morgan Mitchell, 4 Mike Sheppard, 5 Paul Ciulini, 6 Peter Milazzo, 7 John Moonlight, 8 Luke Campbell, 9 Jamie Mackenzie, 10 Sam Malcolm, 11 Leandro Leivas, 12 Guiseppe du Toit, 13 Spencer Jones, 14 Dan Moor, 15 Gaston Mieres. Replacements:  16 Steven Ng, 17 Pat Lynott, 18 Cole Keith, 19 Tom Van Horne, 20 Marcello Wainwright, 21 Andrew Ferguson, 22 Pat Parfrey, 23 Kainoa Lloyd

New York:  1 James Rochford, 2 Dylan Fawsitt, 3 Patrick Ryan, 4 Trevor Cassidy, 5 Nathaniel Brakeley, 6 John Quill, 7 Matthew Hughston, 8 Ross Deacon, 9 Michael Petri, 10 Cathal Marsh, 11 Michael St. Claire, 12 William Leonard, 13 Mark O’Keefe, 14 Connor Wallace-Sims, 14 Ben Foden. Replacements: 16 Callum Mackintosh, 17 Chance Wenglewski, 18 Anthony Parry, 19 Alexander MacDonald, 20 James Denise, 21 Harry Bennett, 22 Christopher Mattina, 23 Marcus Satavu

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In an emphatic 40-12 win over the Glendale Raptors at Lamport Stadium, the Toronto Arrows secure third spot in the league heading into the final game of the regular season this coming Sunday. It was a dominant performance which saw the home side make few if any mistakes, and secure a win that will give them huge confidence going into their final match with Rugby United New York this weekend.

As they have in most of their matches to date, Toronto got proceedings off to a flying start, with prop Morgan Mitchell bludgeoning his way through the Raptors defenses after a superb rolling maul which showed off Toronto’s complete dominance in the set pieces. Five minutes in and it was Toronto leading by five points after fly half Sam Malcolm missed a tricky conversion.

Glendale would hit back five minutes later after some sustained pressure in Toronto’s 22, and a rare lapse in concentration by the Arrows, saw Glendale scrum half Carlo de Nysschen dart across the line off a quick tap penalty. Glendale’s Fly half Will Magie would get the conversion and Glendale would enjoy their only lead of the match at 7-5.

Thereafter it was all Toronto, as the home side focused on getting not only the win but an all important bonus point as well. Toronto seemed to have given up on some of the slightly risky flat passing that had characterized some of their earlier performances and their lineouts showed some marked improvement. With a dominant scrum and better handling skills than the visitors, Toronto looked the more comfortable of the two sides especially under pressure.

A brilliant dummy from fullback Gaston Mieres would see Toronto regain the lead on the 16th minute, and this time Sam Malcolm would make no mistake with the conversion, putting the home side into a 12-7 lead.

Toronto continued to pile the pressure on the Raptors and ten minutes later number eight Luke Campbell would crash across the line after a prolonged period of possession and the home side’s scrum continuing to cause headaches for the visitors from Colorado. Toronto knew they were in with a shot at the bonus point, with just under an hour still to play, as they led 19-7.

And so it was as on the 33rd minute fullback Gaston Mieres once again put in a brilliant sniping run, that saw him weave his way past four defenders and secure Toronto their bonus point. Sam Malcolm was successful with the boot once more and Toronto went into half time with a commanding 26-7 lead.

Glendale would open the scoring early in the second half, as on the 45th minute centre Mika Kruse would take a superb pass floated out wide to find Toronto wanting on defense. Unfortunately Glendale were unable to secure the two points for the conversion and Toronto still found themselves with a comfortable 26-12 lead.

On the 53rd minutes Toronto scrum half Andrew Ferguson would spot an opportunistic gap in Glendale’s defenses in the visitors’ 22 and dive across for the home side’s fifth try. With fly half Sam Malcolm really finding his rhythm with the boot, Toronto further increased their lead to 33-12.

Just over ten minutes later another bout of sustained pressure from Toronto in the Raptors’ half, saw some dominant forward play allow replacement lock Tom van Horne to crash over for Toronto’s sixth try. Another successful conversion and with the score 40-12 for the home side and only 15 minutes left on the clock, Toronto knew they had got the job done.

Glendale would still try and take the fight to Toronto and looked close to getting a consolation try on the the stroke of full time, but centre Ata Malifa overcooked a chip through and the ball went out of bounds.

It had been a clinical and solid display from Toronto, and helped put them firmly in playoff contention. Barring a major slip up against Rugby United New York this coming Sunday in their final game of the regular season, Toronto should easily secure a place in the knockout stages. Furthermore a home playoff is now an an achievable ambition, if they can bring the same kind of intensity to Sunday’s match we saw against Glendale. New York sit in second place on the table just ahead of Toronto but three teams in the top four in the MLR sit on 53 points, so it really is right royal scrap for the knockout stages placings.

It was great to see over 2700 highly vocal fans in attendance last Sunday on a glorious spring afternoon. The stakes couldn’t be higher for our home town heroes this coming Sunday so if you’re in the Toronto area make sure you get out to Lamport and make some noise!

 

Although we don’t necessarily cover the PRO14 in any detail, this year’s final has a real international flavor to it. With a good proportion of their respective World Cup squads involved in Saturday’s club final, Irish and Scottish eyes will be keenly focused on events in Glasgow. In their last big game before the World Cup warm ups start in August, this is a chance for key Irish and Scottish players to really standout in front of the selectors in a match that mirrors the opening encounter for both sides in Japan in September. Irish Coach Joe Schmidt and his Scottish counterpart Gregor Townsend will be watching proceedings closely.

Title holders Leinster come into this match off the back of an agonizing loss to Saracens in the European Champions Cup final a fortnight ago. Meanwhile the Warriors failed to get past Saracens in the quarter final stages of the same competition. Despite that loss one could argue that Glasgow are the form team going into tomorrow’s fixture, and continue to be the masters of a frenetic attacking style of rugby.

Leinster on the other hand have done enough to get them to this point, but simply haven’t been the all conquering side of last year. Relying on a possession dominated game that starves opposition sides of quality ball, Leinster have been effective but it remains to be seen if they can handle Glasgow’s fast paced and highly opportunistic brand of rugby. The two sides have only met once this year, and Glasgow were the dominant side, winning that encounter by a comfortable 15 point margin. Glasgow were able to pull off that victory away from home, and Saturday’s final sees them enjoy the luxury of playing in front of their supporters at Glasgow’s famous Celtic Park.

So without any further ado, here’s what got us talking over our pints this week in relation to Saturday’s eagerly anticipated match.

Glasgow Warriors vs Leinster – Saturday, May 25th – Glasgow

How many of the players wearing their club jerseys on Saturday will end up wearing their national colors on September 22nd in Yokohama remains to be seen, but there is no denying that the match tomorrow has more than just a few overtones of Ireland and Scotland’s opening encounter in the World Cup later this year. Although Leinster come into the match as defending champions, one could almost argue that they have more to prove. With their form, that served them so well last year, seeming to have deserted them at key moments this season, Leinster know they have it all to prove to their supporters on Saturday. While Glasgow are unlikely to have underestimated the threat posed by one of Europe’s best club teams – home advantage, the return of key players and a team in scintillating form in the PRO14 will make them hard to beat on the day.

Glasgow have to concern themselves with not only being competitive against Leinster’s powerhouse front row but also keeping try seeking missile Sean Cronin in check

Most teams would fear the prospect of keeping up with Leinster’s front row, but making sure that one of the competition’s top try scorers is kept at bay is an added complication they would probably rather do without. Leinster’s Hooker Sean Cronin has been a constant thorn in the side of opposition teams this year both in the European Champions Cup and PRO14. While Cronin’s dart throwing at lineout time has not been the most reliable at times, Leinster’s overall prowess in the front row is the stuff of legends with Irish props Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy adding some real grunt and go forward ability at the coal face. Glasgow will be highly competitive here, and a good showing by them is likely to give Scotland Coach Gregor Townsend great heart heading into the World Cup, but there is no getting away from the fact that they are going to have their work cut out for them.

Glasgow simply have to make sure that Leinster don’t overpower them up front and must try and disrupt the lineout as much as possible

We feel Glasgow will struggle to get parity with Leinster in the forward battles, but if they can disrupt the lineout to the point where Sean Cronin’s dart throwing starts to unravel, there is the potential for loose and scrappy ball which Glasgow seem to thrive on. However, Leinster’s Scott Fardy and James Ryan are two of the most reliable assets in European Club rugby and providing Cronin finds his targets, they are unlikely to cough up much opportunistic loose ball. With Jack Conan lighting up the back row for Leinster and Josh van der Flier back to his best on the open side, Glasgow really need to dig deep here to prevent Leinster having the lion’s share of possession. Scottish eyes will all be on van der Flier’s opposite number Rob Harley who is on fire this season and is likely to feature heavily in Scotland’s World Cup plans, while youngster Matt Fagerson is definitely a raw talent in the making for both Glasgow and Scotland at number eight. Fagerson and Harley could not ask for a better warm up for the World Cup and a big performance on Saturday will be a massive confidence booster for them.

Johnny Sexton seems to have found the composure once more that has eluded him this season, but Glasgow’s half back duo packs plenty of speed and the element of surprise

Sexton is such a benchmark for both Leinster and Ireland, that his loss of composure at key moments in 2019 has been worrying for Irish supporters in the run up to a World Cup that has so much riding on it for Ireland. In the PRO14 semi-final against Munster, Sexton seemed to finally settle back into his groove and Ireland Coach Joe Schmidt will hope that his star playmaker’s last performance before the August warm-ups exhibits the same qualities. Glasgow’s halfback duo of fly half Adam Hastings and scrum half Ali Price are more than capable of catching Sexton off guard. With Hastings rapidly rising through the ranks as a more than capable understudy to Scotland’s first choice number 10 Finn Russell, Leinster and Sexton will have to keep an eye on the wily youngster. Meanwhile Ali Price is renown for his frenetic energy and pace off the back of the scrum. His opposite number Leinster’s Luke McGrath will really need to keep the energetic Scottish youngster in check, and in doing so make his claim for Irish colors come September over a raft of up and coming contenders for the no 2 spot on Irish Coach Joe Schmidt’s scrum half list for Japan.

Gary Ringrose has impressed all season for Ireland and Leinster so expect him to finish the year with a bang on Saturday

While his centre field partner Rob Henshaw may be the more established name, in our opinion it’s Ringrose who has been the most consistent player for both club and country this season. Though many have compared him to the great Brian O’Driscoll, we feel Ringrose brings his own unique character and skill set to the game. Increasingly though he is making those kind of breaks that his predecessor was famous for. If a try is to be scored you can almost bet your next paycheck that Ringrose will feature heavily in its execution. With his defensive abilities improving with every outing, he is well on his way to becoming the kind of unique well rounded centre that the Emerald Isle seems to excel at producing. Glasgow and Scotland’s Sam Johnson has also caught the eye all year, most notably in Scotland’s recent thriller at Twickenham in the final match of the Six Nations. A key talent for Scotland and definitely someone likely to have a big say in Scotland’s quest for glory in Japan in a few months time.

Plenty of Canadian interest on the left wing for Glasgow

Canadian fans will be keen to see arguably their country’s best player in action for Glasgow on Saturday. Winger DTH van der Merwe is back to some of his best form for Glasgow after returning to the club this season after three years in England and Wales. Glasgow appear delighted to have him back, and the Canadian is clearly relishing being back at the club that got his international career off to such a promising start. DTH will feature heavily in Canada’s exceptionally difficult World Cup challenge this September, and expect the winger to put on a show to give his international opponents something to think about later in the year.

A swansong in their respective colors for two of Europe’s finest fullbacks?

In the case of Stuart Hogg, that is definitely the case as the Scottish fullback parts company with a club that he played such a vital role in over the last eight years. The final on Saturday sees the Scottish International head south of the border to take up with English premiership side Exeter. Glasgow will miss the extraordinary talents of a player who seems able to strike from anywhere on the pitch. Rob Kearney’s future post Saturday’s match is still undecided, but could well see him heading to France after the World Cup, and as a result tomorrow’s game could be the last time the veteran fullback wears the colors of his beloved Leinster. Much like Hogg, Kearney has played a huge role in the Dublin club’s successes in Europe and Ireland’s triumphs on the world stage for the last fourteen years. Expect these two to put on a vintage display for their fans to remember them by.

Verdict

We have to admit that we are really looking forward to what should be a thrilling contest, between two teams desperate to make a statement, with perhaps the need to do so being more pressing for Leinster. Glasgow at home will be exceptionally difficult to overcome and the crowd will do their bit as the sixteenth man, despite a healthy and numerous contingent of visiting Leinster supporters. A very hard contest to call, but despite some rather heated debate, we have ultimately decided to nod our heads across the Irish sea. Glasgow have home advantage and some truly dazzling attacking rugby up their sleeve in their favor but we side with the Irish team’s experience and big match temperament. It will be close of that we’re fairly certain and the lead may swing back and forth with some real heart in the mouth moments, but ultimately we feel Leinster will batten down the hatches and squeak out a tight win by four points! Either way make sure you don’t miss it as it is likely to have some influence on proceedings on a certain Sunday in September this year!

A match that has perhaps been as eagerly anticipated as the opening fixture of this year’s Six Nations between Ireland and England in February, kicks off on Saturday, as the final that most people wanted in the European Champions Cup takes place between Ireland’s Leinster and England’s Saracens. The two best club sides in Europe do battle in Newcastle in a match that should be one for the ages. It may be club rugby but it has the aura of a classic Test match in the making.

So here’s what got us talking this week in the buildup to what should be a gripping eighty minutes of top level rugby.

Saracens vs Leinster – Saturday, May 11th – Newcastle

It may only be club rugby but Saturday’s match has all the trappings of a classic Test match. Ireland and England’s finest go head to head in what will be for many of the players involved one of their last big games before the World Cup in September. Consequently, while their primary focus will be on lifting one of rugby’s most coveted cups in Newcastle, a good performance will also lay down some markers of what we can expect to see from Ireland and England come the World Cup. A Cup final in a World Cup year always seems to have double the stakes.

Leinster should have the more dynamic front row, but Saracens are more than capable of negating it.

Leinster’s front office trio of Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and Sean Cronin just oozes class and coherence. It’s a tight unit that functions almost effortlessly as one. Consequently on form you’d have to give Leinster the edge here, but in Hooker Jamie George and Loosehead prop Mako Vunipola Saracens have two of the best in the business, with Vunipola consistently making the headlines for Saracens and England all season. We’d argue that George is the more accurate dart thrower at lineout time, but Cronin the more devastating finisher anywhere near the try line. Throw in Furlong and Healy who is a master of the turnover for Leinster, and Saracens are going to have their work cutout for them, especially with Furlong coming back to his bruising best in the Irish side’s semi-final encounter with Toulouse.

Can Will Skelton keep his discipline in a battle with arguably Europe’s best second row partnership?

Leinster’s James Ryan and Devin Toner are masters of the cool, calm and collected approach to life in the second row, with Ryan’s work rate rapidly becoming the stuff of legends and a player who we have yet to see have a bad game. Saracens George Kruis is a reliable workhorse for both club and England, but Australian import Will Skelton is a wild card. A favorite of the referee’s whistle when wearing the gold of Australia in high pressure matches, Skelton is likely to receive special attention from referee Jerome Garces on Saturday. The big Wallaby second rower, can be devastating when on song, but under pressure is prone to giving away endless and silly penalties. Quick to boil over and lose the plot it remains to be seen if he can keep it together in the face of two of Europe’s most composed and unflappable players.

In a back row battle for the ages one of Europe’s most underrated players meets his kindred spirit

As regular readers of our musings know we regard Leinster and Australia’s Scott Fardy as one of Club and Test rugby’s most underrated players. We’d argue the same from a club perspective for Saracens Jackson Wray, even more so given his seeming oversight by the England selectors. When it comes to reliability you couldn’t ask for two finer players. While Fardy has got the recognition from Wallaby selectors he deserves, Wray’s omission from England selections has always perplexed us. Perhaps Saturday will be the day that Wray finally gets on England Coach Eddie Jones’ radar? However, with four other world class players in the back rows – Ireland and Leinster’s Sean O’Brien and Jack Conan up against England and Saracens Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, it could be just another day at the office for Wray.

England’s Eddie Jones and Ireland’s Joe Schmidt will be watching the battles at 9 and 10 VERY closely

Both national coaches will be looking for big performances from the scrum halves in tomorrow’s matches. Leinster’s Luke McGrath has the potential to steal some significant limelight from Ireland’s first choice scrum half – the exceptional Conor Murray. A strong performance on Saturday will surely see McGrath secure the backup scrum half berth for Japan. The same could be said for Saracens’ Ben Spencer, who we think should be a shoe in for England’s number two spot for Japan.

Meanwhile two of the world’s best fly halves once more go head to head. Saracens and England number 10 Owen Farrell has been the more in form of the two this season. Ireland and Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton was voted World Player of the year in 2018, but so far this year his form has at times eluded him. Both players though have clearly lost the plot under pressure this year, and while England and Saracens have perhaps felt this less often than Ireland and Leinster, Saracens’ Owen Farrell is prone to losing sight of the big picture once things are not going his way. Sexton’s frustration has been well documented this year, and with it so has Leinster and Ireland’s dip in form at crucial moments. Both these players need to be at their very best on Saturday, and England and Ireland’s coaching staff will be watching anxiously from the sidelines.

With the World Cup just around the corner this is the Leinster centre duo’s biggest game of the year

Gary Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw need to fire for Leinster and with it Ireland tomorrow. Saracens Brad Barritt and Alex Lozowski will need to do the same, but the pressure on them in terms of future international commitments is perhaps slightly less. Ringrose and Henshaw are vital to Ireland’s World Cup plans, so tomorrow’s match sees them needing to be at their best and also avoid any injuries that would sideline them from the trip to Japan, something that in Henshaw’s case is a genuine concern. We think the Irish center pairing is the more dangerous of the two, but if they are playing with a sense of caution with a view to Japan then this could be a real opportunity for Barritt and Lozowski to run riot.

Two World Class back lines should provide plenty of sparks and more than a few moments to remember

In Leinster and Ireland fullback Rob Kearney and Wales and Saracens winger Liam Williams you have two of the best players in the world under the high ball. Saracens fullback Alex Goode has beaten more defenders in the competition this year than any other player taking to the field in Newcastle. Saracens Sean Maitland and Leinster’s James Lowe are two of the tournament’s leading try scorers out wide. Finally Ireland and Leinster’s Jordan Larmour has X-factor written all over him and clearly relishes a big opportunity like tomorrow to put such skills on display and lay down a marker for the World Cup. There is such strength in all aspects of back line play spread across these six gentlemen’s skill sets, that it should all add up to some thrilling running rugby if both teams earn the right to go wide.

Verdict

We are so divided on how to call this one, as in reality we feel there is nothing in it between these two sides, we are almost reluctant to do so. However, the tradition of this blog dictates that we must – so with a deep breath here goes. On form we give Saracens the slightest of nods, even if overall we think Leinster has the more dangerous and accomplished side. If Leinster find their killer form then it could be a scary afternoon for Saracens. With the pressure generated by the imminent World Cup being slightly less for some of Saracens’ players, expect them to be slightly more composed and focused on the immediate task at hand. Leinster know that if they can rattle Saracens’ Owen Farrell then their squad of Irish internationals has the experience to take their game to another level. However, if Sexton gets frustrated early on then this is Saracens game to lose. Despite their erratic form at times this season, we think the desire to put a fifth star on that jersey as well as give Ireland a much needed confidence boost leading up to the World Cup, will see Leinster just edge a titanic struggle by two points! However, none of us are putting a bet on tomorrow’s outcome as that’s how close we really think it is. More than anything we’re just hoping for a game that we’ll all still be talking about years from now whoever wins – and let’s face it both these teams have the ability to fulfill such a wish!

 

 

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In Toronto’s first of four games at Lamport Stadium in the heart of downtown, they laid down a marker that they mean business for the rest of the season. In a gutsy fightback they ultimately stole the match at the death from the League’s top ranked team San Diego Legion. It was a nail biting affair from start to finish but Toronto were able to keep their wits about them and get their second win over the men from Southern California by 23-19. Having now beat the League’s top team this year as well as last year’s defending Champions Seattle, Toronto’s Arrows are building some impressive momentum as they head into a tough week which sees them play three matches in eight days .

There was no doubt that the move to Lamport Stadium was popular with fans as the East Terrace boasted a small but healthy crowd. It appeared that the Western Terrace was not available, but it is hoped it will be for the Arrows remaining matches at Lamport. Nevertheless a boisterous and vocal crowd were on hand and the rousing support they provided was acknowledged by an appreciative Captain Dan Moor at the end of the match. Toronto’s entry into professional rugby union would appear to be increasingly well received by local rugby fans. The day before the Arrows’ Rugby League compatriots the Wolfpack had also put visiting English side Bradford Bulls to the sword at Lamport Stadium, so rugby in general would appear to be going from strength to strength in the city.

In perfect conditions for running rugby Toronto poured on the pressure right from the opening whistle. The first five minutes saw the Arrows rooted in the Legion’s 22 and this would continue for much of the first half with Toronto dominating the territory and possession statistics. However, despite their lack of time with ball in hand San Diego proved adept at turning what little possession they did get into points on the board. Some quick ball from San Diego in their 22 would see them open up an otherwise resolute Toronto defense against the run of play, and the visitors get the first points on the board at the end of the first quarter, as South African centre JP du Plessis scored an excellent try. San Diego would miss the conversion and Toronto would answer three minutes later with a shot at goal from a penalty.

Toronto’s passing at times remained poor under pressure with them tending to play far too flat against San Diego’s rushing defense for our liking.. Although the Arrows lineout looked a lot more robust than it did in their first three outings back at home, there were still some worrying misfires at times.

San Diego’s try scorer du Plessis would see yellow on the 25 minute mark, but despite constant pressure Toronto were unable to take advantage of the visitors being a man down other than a successful penalty kick which put the home side ahead 6-5. Back to full strength once more San Diego would have the last laugh of the first half. Another flat pass from Toronto would be scooped up by San Diego and US Eagles fullback Mike Te’o to put the visitors ahead once more after capitalizing on some spilled Toronto ball. San Diego fly half Joe Pietersen made a successful conversion and the Californians headed into the break in the lead at 12-6.

Toronto would once again reassert their dominance in the physical battles and the possession stakes as the second half got underway. The pressure was clearly getting to San Diego and with it their discipline. Three minutes in Arrows fly half Sam Malcolm would slot another successful penalty and the gap was down to three points.

A tug of war would ensue between the two sides for the next twenty minutes but continued Toronto pressure would see another yellow card issued to San Diego for repeated high tackles. This time Toronto would make their one man advantage count and substitute back Leandro Leivas would score a fine try in the right hand corner. Malcolm would convert and all of a sudden the game was Toronto’s to lose with thirteen minutes left on the clock and the home side ahead by 16-12.

San Diego would then apply pressure of their own and three minutes later were back on top after a team try was finished off by fly half and Captain Joe Pietersen, despite some solid defending from Toronto.

With the visitors ahead once more 19-16 and three minutes left on the clock, Toronto had it all to do. Toronto piled on the pressure and once again San Diego’s discipline cracked as they earned yet another yellow card. With a minute and a half to go, Toronto made full use of their one man advantage and their power in their forwards to drive replacement hooker Stephen Ng across the line for the match winning try. Malcolm would make sure of the conversion and Toronto would seal a memorable win at the death 23-19.

The lively crowd had got their money’s worth in a glorious afternoon of sunshine and rugby. Toronto continue to edge closer to that elusive playoff spot, as although the win still sees them in sixth place on the table, they have a make up game against Austin this Thursday which they should win and thus project themselves into contention for a playoff spot. If they were to get a bonus point out of Thursday’s encounter in addition to a win they could well find themselves already in playoff contention by the time they meet the Utah Warriors on Sunday, who they thrashed 64-31 the last time the sides met.

There is no doubt that three games in eight days, even if they are all at home, is a tall order for Toronto but there is no denying the fact their tails are up.  A three game winning streak should give them confidence against two sides who they have already beaten this season. Still Captain Dan Moor was taking nothing for granted when he thanked supporters at the end of the match and looked ahead to a challenging week. Toronto still need to sharpen up some aspects of their game if they are to go all the way in this their first season in Major League Rugby. Nevertheless the will and ability are clearly there, and Sunday’s gritty performance showed that this team is more than capable of upsetting the odds and has no fear of the challenges that lie ahead. Once again if you’re in Toronto this week, make sure you play your part in helping to build the momentum!

 

 

 

 

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Elusive it may still be but, after defeating last year’s Champions the Seattle Seawolves 29-7 at York Alumni Field on Sunday, a playoff spot is not completely out of reach for Major League Rugby’s 2019 debutantes the Toronto Arrows. Toronto put on their best show to date since returning to Toronto for the remainder of the MLR season. It was a thrilling encounter that got the 2000 plus crowd on their feet on a regular basis, courtesy of four well worked tries by Toronto which secured them a valuable bonus point in addition to the win.

The match was preceded by an emotional moment as Ray Barkwill, Canada’s veteran hooker, marked his last day as a professional player with an honorary one day contract with the Toronto Arrows. Barkwill who turned out 56 times for Canada decided to call time on an illustrious and proud rugby career. The 38 year-old Niagara Falls native was given a rousing reception and sendoff by the crowd and it is hoped, now that he is back home in Ontario, he will keep a close association with the Arrows and their continued success.

Barkwill himself played for the Seattle Seawolves last year, and the American team boasted some strong Canadian content, most notably in the shape of prop Djustice Sears Duru, flanker Nakai Penny, scrum half Phil Mack and winger Brock Staller – with Staller being one of our Canadian players to watch in 2019.

The first half was a tight affair, but the Arrows looked the more composed and focused side. However, once again the Arrows passing at times looked speculative and they were lucky that the Seawolves did not bring their handling game to Toronto. A few miracle no look passes by Toronto did end up being intercepted by Seattle, but outstanding defense from the Arrows and constant handling errors from the Seawolves ensured that no damage was done, despite center Shalom Suniula looking dangerous all match for the visitors.

Nevertheless Toronto were the dominant side from the outset, with their scrum in particular causing Seattle all kinds of grief. The Arrows continued to be inconsistent at lineout time, but that was the only flaw in an otherwise outstanding performance. A strong breeze was also making kicking and lineout duties a challenge for both sides. Seattle were kicking into the wind in the first half and were having a torrid time making their aerial game translate into any kind of useful territory or possession.

In a tight encounter from both sides, the scoreboard would not turnover until the 25 minute mark. Toronto fly half Sam Malcolm would do the honors for Toronto courtesy of a penalty kick. Five minutes later Toronto’s Uruguayan winger Leandro Leivas would be the subject of Toronto’s only disciplinary blemish, as he was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on. Despite being reduced to 14 men, Toronto’s outstanding defense across the park continued to hold firm and they managed to apply some solid pressure on the visitors, resulting in a superb try for big second rower Michael Sheppard. Malcolm would miss the conversion, but Toronto would end the half 8-0 and clearly looked like they were starting to build some momentum.

On returning to the field after sitting out the last ten minutes of the first half, winger Leivas redeemed himself in spectacular fashion at the start of the second half. Centre Giuseppe du Toit spotted the gap off a lovely pass from replacement scrum half Jamie Mackenzie and Leivas finished the job for Toronto’s second try.

Seattle would strike back in a rare defensive lapse from Toronto, as center Shuniula, who had threatened all match, would be put into some wide open space in the inside channel by Seawolves scrum half Phil Mack. Toronto’s defense in their 22, which had looked dramatically better since their last outings against the Sabrecats and NOLA Gold, would get caught napping and a relatively soft try put Seattle back in the match with eighteen minutes left on the clock.

However, that seemed to be the wake up call Toronto needed and they never let up for the rest of the match. The highlight of the game would come in the 69th minute from Captain and Toronto native Dan Moor. A brilliant break down the right wing off some spilled Seattle ball saw the Arrows Captain put in a flying finish from just outside the Arrows 22 and jot the ball down for Toronto’s third try. The crowd rose as one and for the final 10 minutes Toronto simply allowed Seattle no say in the match.

The icing on the cake would come in the 75th minute, as with Moor once more in the thick of things deep in Seattle’s 22, the ball would work its way out to Canadian International second rower Paul Ciulini, who would effortlessly get the ball down between the posts allowing for an easy conversion. Toronto continued to keep up the pressure till the final whistle and although no further points would come their way, it had been an emphatic second half display from the Arrows. The elation on players and fans faces alike was a joy to watch.

Toronto head into their next match with the San Diego Legion, who currently lead the league, full of confidence after such a solid performance against Seattle. Cut out some of the risky passing, build on what is an excellent defensive platform, consolidate a powerful scrum and tidy up some of the lineout work and Toronto will be a force to reckon with, as they head to Lamport Stadium in Toronto’s Liberty village for their remaining four home games before the playoffs. There is still a long way to go before Toronto can comfortably see themselves securing a spot in the knockout stages, but last Sunday’s performance has made it an achievable ambition once more.

We have really enjoyed the quality of rugby on display, and the enthusiasm of the crowd for Toronto’s latest professional sports venture. Furthermore with so many Canadian Internationals in the Arrows side, it is a lot like getting out there and cheering on the national team, until the franchise can hopefully expand to more Canadian cities. Sunday’s game against San Diego is a high stakes venture for the Arrows, and it is our hope that as many people as possible can come out to support a team that is really starting to click and make their city and country proud. Whatever you’re doing this Sunday, if you love the sport of rugby union and you’re in the Toronto area you know where you need to be!

 

20190407_135922In only their second home game of the season Toronto’s Major League Rugby Franchise, the Arrows, put in a solid performance to overcome the Houston Sabercats 35-21 and put them back in contention for a possible playoff spot.

After their rousing home opener against New Orleans a fortnight ago, which saw the Arrows get edged out by the visitors in the dying minutes of a thrilling contest, Sunday’s clash with the Houston Sabercats was a much-needed tonic for players and fans alike. While the attendance was sadly only half of that of the match against New Orleans, it is hoped that the win and some sterner competition in the shape of the Seattle Seawolves will fill the stands once more at York Lions Stadium.

Once again Toronto fans will be concerned at their side’s seemingly porous defence at times in their own 22, but heartened by the fact that the for the most part they are able to stand firm in the rest of the park. Furthermore unlike in the match against New Orleans, Toronto were able to put all the pressure on the opposition in a strong final ten minutes to seal the win. Toronto had a purple patch towards the end of the first half that carried through into the first ten minutes of the second half, which saw them leak 21 unanswered points allowing Houston to draw level. However unlike the match against New Orleans a fortnight earlier, Toronto were able to regroup and stamp their authority on the remainder of the match.

Toronto got proceedings off to a flying start early on in much the same manner as they did against New Orleans a fortnight ago. Lock Kolby Francis peeled away from an effective maul to get Toronto’s first points on the board. Minutes later Toronto fans would feel justifiably robbed as the officials somehow missed flanker Lucas Rumball squeaking the ball onto the line under a pile of bodies. However, fullback Theo Sauder would make amends by touching down from a lovely floated pass out the back of the ensuing scrum. Fly half Sam Malcolm would convert and only 12 minutes in Toronto found themselves ahead 12-0.

Five minutes later after another bruising passage of play from Toronto’s forward pack, Hooker Andrew Quattrin dotted the ball down for the home side after a superb lineout drive. Malcolm converted and on the half hour Toronto found themselves 21-0 up.

The next twenty minutes however are ones the home side will most likely want to forget. Whether it was complacency or a lack of concentration, we’ll never know but Toronto took their foot off the gas and paid dearly for it. In some chaotic defending in their 22, Toronto got caught off guard allowing Houston fullback Zach Pangelinan to score a soft try.

Five minutes later and as the halftime whistle was about to be blown, Toronto were again caught napping in their 22. Houston Hooker Pat O’Toole appeared to have acres of space to operate in as Toronto simply looked on in what was some truly sloppy defence again in their 22. Two soft tries in five minutes and Houston were right back in the match as the teams headed off for the half time break.

Houston’s scrum had looked solid and clearly buoyed by their resurgence at the end of the first half, they came storming back into the second and used their strength in the set pieces to maximum advantage. Toronto once again struggled under pressure in their 22 and with it their discipline suffered allowing the Saber Cats to be awarded a penalty try. With the scores now level Toronto and their fans were left wondering how such a dominant performance in the first 30 minutes had evaporated.

However, Houston’s third score appeared to be the wakeup call Toronto needed. On the 52 minute mark, Toronto would take advantage of Houston’s continuous handling errors in the back line, and after some sustained pressure as a result of some spilled ball by Houston, Toronto’s forward pack would take up residence on the visitors’ five metre line. This would ultimately see second rower Michael Sheppard crash over for Toronto’s bonus point try.

Toronto’s defence had always looked solid in the midfield but by now they appeared to have shored up their earlier problems in their own 22. For the remainder of the match despite some concerted efforts from Houston, they would hold firm and keep the visitors frustrated and at bay. Replacement Arrows winger Kainoa Lloyd would put the icing on the cake in the 67th minute after pouncing on yet another spilled ball from the visitors, and in a 60 metre sprint that got the crowd on their feet would dot it down under the posts for an easy conversion.

Houston would continue to fight to the end, but their execution at times just wasn’t there and Toronto appeared to have recovered from the lapses in concentration that had almost undone them at the end of the first half. Houston threw the kitchen sink at the Arrows but the Toronto side held firm.

The win sees Toronto make a valuable points haul including a bonus point try, though they will be kicking themselves for leaking those 21 points when such differences come into play in determining playoff spots. Nevertheless it was an important win and one which should help build some confidence for a much tougher tussle against third placed Seattle Seawolves this coming Sunday. There is still a lot of work to do, but Toronto rugby union fans can take great heart in seeing a home-grown team that boasts so much local talent, doing so well in what should be an excellent run of home games in only their first season in Major League Rugby.