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!