Archive for the ‘Major League Rugby’ Category

Excuse the silence but some of us have been taking some well earned breaks in the sunshine to get away from the Canadian winter. I had the particular privilege of watching France’s outstanding victory over Wales, in a particularly lively bar surrounded by French rugby fans on the island of St. Martin. The Six Nations has been thrown into disarray by the growing Corona virus epidemic, and while we all thoroughly support the precautions being taken, it all seems rather ham fisted and runs the risk of throwing the end result of what has been an otherwise outstanding tournament into disarray.

Super Rugby is really starting to get into its stride, with interestingly enough after five rounds, South Africa’s Stormers sitting atop the table, albeit due to most of the South African conference having a game in hand over most of their main rivals from the New Zealand conference. However, this early on there are no undefeated teams after only five rounds which should mean this year’s festivities could be a tightly contested affair, but much like last year New Zealand teams seem destined to dominate proceedings but with a strong challenge from Argentina’s Jaguares and South Africa’s Sharks and Stormers.

What’s really put a spring in our step these last few weeks is the Toronto Arrows barnstorming start to their MLR season. Along with San Diego, the only undefeated team after the first four rounds, it’s looking good for our home town heroes. If they are this good on the road and the injury gods are kind to them, what a prospect Canadian rugby fans have in store for them once the Arrows return to Toronto in April for the majority of their remaining games!

Six Nations

You knew it was coming, and for good reason, but let’s be honest the Corona virus machinations affecting the final two rounds of the competition have taken some of the shine off what was turning out to be one of the most intriguing Six Nations post a World Cup we can remember in a long time. The calling off of the Ireland/Italy clash due to public health concerns this weekend is understandable, but it is hard to fathom why the game couldn’t be played behind closed doors as is being proposed for the Italy/England clash. That would have kept the tournament’s table intact in determining the ultimate winner. As it stands now with the Ireland/Italy match now postponed indefinitely, with some saying that the most likely date is the November International window, we won’t really know who the Champions are potentially till then. If France go on to beat both Scotland this weekend and Ireland next weekend then such arguments become null and void as they will be the only team who at this stage remain undefeated. Given France’s red hot form at the moment, this is a distinct possibility, but it is still a shame that the tournament officials and their respective unions and governments have been rather ham fisted in their response to the crisis, and no clear unanimity on how to proceed.

On that note if France do remain undefeated in their final two matches, then you could argue that most neutrals would not be overly disheartened, as Les Bleus have certainly endeared themselves to many of us this tournament. France is back with a vengeance and we’d argue have done better than anyone else what all the teams in the Northern Hemisphere desperately need to do – take your youth and embrace it and reward players whose form has merited them a place in the national squad. New Coach Fabien Galthie has brought the breath of fresh air that French rugby has been gasping for for so long – and it is certainly paying dividends. Backed up by a stellar coaching team including the legendary English defence Coach Shaun Edwards, France look mean, efficient and breathtakingly talented. They have easily been the most enjoyable team to watch so far, and France’s investment in its youngsters this Championship has been a model for the other unions to look to. The half back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Emile Ntamack has been the talk of the tournament, while back rower Gregory Aldritt has been one of its most impressive performers. We’ve always thought Captain and openside flanker Charles Ollivon had many of the characteristics of the legendary Olivier Magne, and so far this tournament Ollivon has led from the front and been no stranger to the try line. Throw in a set of backs that can turn and weave on a dime and this is the France of old, and we can’t wait to watch them in their final two outings.

England despite stumbling at their first hurdle in Paris to the French, have improved steadily as the tournament progressed. However, Scotland wasn’t really much of a test and the weather certainly didn’t help either side, though England made better use of the conditions. England simply resorted to the same playbook that saw them decimate Ireland last year and in the World Cup warm ups, something which the Irish for some reason best known to themselves seemed completely taken aback by for the third time in a row. Consequently, how much of a genuine Test England have had other than the French in this tournament is debatable. Of their remaining two fixtures, it’s only Wales that could potentially give them the kind of Test that could give them a benchmark of where England are right now. However Ireland, who England dispatched with ease a fortnight ago, managed to negate Wales’ supposed threats without too much difficulty in Dublin, and the Men in Red just don’t seem to be firing so far this year. England’s final clash with Italy, even if it does go ahead, should be a dead rubber, so as we say it’s difficult to really gauge where England are at post the World Cup. We’re not convinced by Eddie Jones selection choices especially at scrum half, and the jury is still out for us on Owen Farrell’s Captaincy – great when things are going well for England, but prone to unraveling in dramatic fashion when things aren’t – watch the France replay if you’re not convinced along with the World Cup final. England need to take a leaf out of France’s playbook and bring in some of their talented youngsters now and build a winning and youthful but experienced team for the next World Cup. That has to happen now and not two years down the road – and if not England will only have themselves to blame for yet another World Cup that ends in tears.

Last year’s Grand Slam heroes Wales, sadly look out of sorts this year. In many ways in 2020 they look a lot like Ireland post their 2018 successes. Wales had a stellar year in 2019 but much like Ireland in 2018 would appear to have peaked. Like Ireland they have some genuine talent in their youth but the new Coaching regime of Wayne Pivac seems to be struggling to get it to mesh. Their front row looks shambolic, their back row is clearly not gelling as a unit despite some extraordinary individual talent and their backs have lots of potential but it is just not being realized. In short, it’s hard to know what’s not working for Wales as on paper it should and then some. Their contest with England at Twickenham this weekend could be the match that leaves us with more than just a little egg on our faces, but as we put this out, we are not exactly stocking up on paper towels to clean up the mess. Our overriding impression with Wales is that they just look tired and like a team that has perhaps played just a bit too much rugby of late.

Ireland have blown hot and cold so much this tournament, that it’s almost impossible to know what is really going on in the Emerald Isle when it comes to the national team. Leinster continue to dominate the European club scene, but at a national level there is absolutely no consistency whatsoever. Coach Andy “Faz” Farrell may be a great guy to have a chinwag with in the locker and training rooms, but we are simply not convinced that any of that is really producing a plan that gets results on the pitch that would cause too many sleepless nights for the bigger teams. Although Ireland got their campaign off to a good start with a workmanlike win over a shambolic Scotland and a slightly more cohesive performance against a Welsh side that simply let Ireland get on with it, their implosion against an English game plan they had already seen twice in the space of a year was inexcusable. Ireland were utterly hopeless against England and once again looked like deer in the headlights in the face of a rampant and aggressive English onslaught. One they had already seen twice last year to the letter. There would appear to be no learning whatsoever going on in the Irish camp, coupled to the fact that their talented youth are wasted by Farrell’s insistence on sticking to some of his older players who just aren’t showing up. Don’t get us wrong – we’ve loved watching Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray’s exploits in an Irish jersey over the last few years – but even the most ignorant rugby observer could not deny that both of them are simply so far off the mark this year it is laughable. Ireland need to adopt the approach France has taken, as they have an abundance of talented players under 25 who need game time now – not in two years time. It’s highly doubtful that the Sextons and Murrays of this squad will make the next World Cup, so throw caution to the wind, roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty with some serious squad development, even if that means taking a few ugly losses on the chin but learning from them in the process. At the moment we just feel that Ireland are learning absolutely nothing every time they run out onto the pitch and are just hoping that the opposition is a bit more clueless than they are. Given Ireland’s depth of talent that is criminal – plain and simple! Ireland can start to fix this by putting Conor Murray on the bench and starting John Cooney against France at nine – when Cooney came off the bench against England Ireland all of a sudden looked a completely different team.

Scotland’s off pitch soap operas continue, but they need to end and end quickly. Scotland is our underdog favorite here at the Lineout come the Six Nations, and are definitely “the little engine that could”. This is a team that is always capable of a big surprise when you least expect it, but sadly so far this year our belief and expectations have been stretched beyond belief. There is a good team in there somewhere but much like Wales it is just not firing at the moment, and the frustration is there for all to see. We really hope that beating Italy isn’t going to be their only highlight this tournament. Disgraced fly half Finn Russell probably knows Scotland’s French opponents better than anyone after his exploits with Racing 92 this year, and internal politics aside Scotland will miss him this Sunday. France traveled well to Cardiff and there is no reason to suppose they won’t do the same to Murrayfield.

Italy meanwhile, even with the Corona virus mayhem sadly affecting them more than any other Six Nations competitor, continue their traditional campaign for the Six Nations Wooden Spoon. A new Coaching regime hasn’t really done them much good, and after three truly turgid performances they have only managed to put a paltry 22 points on the scoreboard albeit against tournament darlings France. However, getting blanked by both Wales and Scotland is not exactly a convincing argument that Italy is progressing anywhere fast. We don’t really know what the answer is for Italy but in this their 20th year in the Six Nations you have to wonder for how much longer people will bother to continue asking, let alone be interested in a solution.

Super Rugby

Despite the half full stadiums, we have to admit as we always do, that there has been some hellishly entertaining rugby on display at times so far this year. What’s perhaps caught us most by surprise is that after five rounds it’s a South African team at the top of the tables. However, the three front runner teams from the New Zealand conference have only played four games, whereas the Stormers and Sharks who currently sit atop the points tables have five under their belt. In short expect it to all change this weekend, and normal service to resume with New Zealand teams once more asserting their dominance. However, it does look like this year’s competition is going to come down to a six horse race between three New Zealand teams, one Argentinian and two South African.

No we are not being dismissive of the Australian contingent in the tournament but so far, apart from the Brumbies, we’ve haven’t seen anything from Australia or Japan (home of the hapless Sunwolves who also are part of the Australian conference) that looks likely to give any of the six aforementioned teams too much to worry about. The Brumbies look the only Australian team likely to trouble the big guns this year and their win on the road against New Zealand’s traditional power house the Chiefs last weekend was a big confidence booster. But sadly for Australian teams this year we feel it’s going to be a case of take your big victories when you can find them but sadly they are likely to be few and far between against teams outside the Australian conference.

As mentioned above, with the three top New Zealand teams only having played four games after five rounds, they find themselves lagging behind their Argentinian and South African counterparts on the points table. However, as usual the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes all look like serious contenders for this year’s silverware. Nevertheless, all three sides don’t look quite as polished as they have in years gone by. All three should have easy wins this weekend, and it will be interesting to see how they build momentum for some much more challenging encounters at the end of the month.

In the South African conference, the Stormers find themselves at the top of the points table, but for us it is the Sharks and Argentina’s Jaguares who pose the more serious threat in the long run. Both teams are on fire with the Sharks in particular having a truly lethal set of backs. However, the Jaguares also look to be the surprise package again this year that they were in 2019. The loss of a key group of Pumas internationals to European clubs hasn’t seemed to have slowed them down, and of their two defeats so far this season only one was by more than three points. Argentina continues to be a hotbed of rugby talent and they continue to prove that they are very much a Tier 1 nation to be respected and worthy of their place at rugby’s top table.

Major League Rugby

Well how about them Arrows?!!!! What a terrific start it’s been to only their second season in Major League Rugby, and to top it all off they haven’t even played at home yet. If they can keep this form up to their first home game in Toronto on April 4th against the Utah Warriors, then what a season this promises to be.

The only other unbeaten team in the league so far is the San Diego Legion and Toronto will have the added advantage that their only encounter with the Californians prior to the playoffs will be at home in Toronto. There appears to be growing interest in the Arrows in Toronto, with live showings of their games at Hemingways bar in downtown Toronto being packed affairs.

There is no question that Toronto look a tight and well drilled unit this year. Their scrum is arguably the most devastating in the league, their lineout work is vastly improved over last season and they look a threat in the loose. They have a pacy and smart halfback contingent and their backs are just as quick and dangerous out wide as they were last year coupled to a solid centre pairing more than able to make inroads up the middle. In short, if the injury gods remain kind to Toronto for the rest of the season then this could be a very big year for the team. Having already dispatched last year’s Champions the Seattle Seawolves, there’s no reason to think the Arrows couldn’t go all the way this year. The impact of MLR success on Canada’s national team prospects this year and beyond could be very telling.

TV listings are over on the TV page for all this weekend’s Six Nations, Super Rugby and MLR action. Till next week enjoy a very tasty weekend ahead!

If you thought last weekend was pretty epic then this one coming up looks to be even better, with the added bonus of the Toronto Arrows getting their MLR campaign underway.

The Six Nations got off to a thrilling start and, despite the weather forecast for this Saturday, provides us two contests of titanic proportions to look forward to. Super Rugby also got underway and threw up plenty of surprises and we were pleased to see relatively healthy crowds in attendance and some very exciting rugby as always on display. Lastly, closer to home Canada’s first foray into professional rugby union gets into its second season as our own Toronto Arrows get their campaign underway in Texas.

In short LOTS to look forward to and plenty of talking points, so here’s what got us agreeing to disagree this week.

Six Nations

Six Nations post a World Cup have often tended to be slightly flat affairs, and this season threatened the same especially given the raft of wholesale changes going on in most of the squads. In reality however, last weekend was one of the best opening weekends we can remember in a while, and this year’s edition looks set to be a classic in the making.

Wales and Italy got us started and although it was a completely one-sided affair in favor of the Men in Red, it was still an entertaining contest. Although Italy didn’t get any points on the board they rarely looked like they were simply lying down and capitulating especially in the second half, despite the 42-0 scoreline. Wales though looked the business from start to finish and of all the six teams, would appear to be head and shoulders above the rest in terms of the favorites tag. Life under new Coach Wayne Pivac seems to be agreeing with them and some of the creativity we felt Wales have always had was finally allowed to run riot. Dan Biggar was clearly the best number ten in the competition so far, but Wales looked the complete package and a highly dangerous one at that. As regular visitors to these musings know we are MASSIVE fans of open side flanker Justin Tipuric, and he did not disappoint in this match as he put in a monumental shift that showcased his exceptional talents – in short one of the best in the business! Leigh Halfpenny also seemed to experience a second coming at fullback, while winger Josh Adams proceeded to cross the whitewash at will and debutant winger Johnny McNicholl adjusted to life at Test level exceptionally well. Given Ireland’s rather disjointed performance against Scotland, Wayne Pivac’s men must surely fancy their chances in Dublin this weekend. With foul weather promised, they may not be as expansive as they were against Italy, but they have a forward pack that is more than capable of slogging it out in the wet and a solid defense ably marshaled by Dan Biggar who is clearly at the top of his game.

Italy seemed to confirm widely held beliefs that they would once again be clasping the wooden spoon this year. After watching France dismantle a rather over rated England side last weekend, Italy must be feeling more than just a little nervous about their trip to the French capital this Sunday. Italy did have a few moments of promising creativity in the second half, but Wales had done so much damage in the first forty that although Italy entertained us at times, they rarely threatened and the Coaching staff will be concerned they left Cardiff without a point to their name. We’re not convinced that the Carlo Canna experiment worked at center and expect to see him returned to the number ten jersey this weekend albeit from the bench. There is some genuine talent in this Italian squad especially in the back line and the back row, but as mentioned last week, we really hope Coach Franco Smith returns second rower Federico Ruzza to the starting lineup for Italy this weekend, as his prowess in broken play off set pieces is a real asset to Italy’s ability to create opportunity when they need it the most.

The contest in Dublin between Ireland and Scotland was a high octane affair, but both sides still suffer from an ability to score tries, which could ultimately leave them both in the middle to the bottom of the pack this year. Scotland fluffed their lines all too often close to the try line, with Captain and fullback Stuart Hogg clearly having the most frustrating moment of the tournament as he knocked the ball on in what was otherwise a gift of a try. What Scotland did show us though was some truly bruising and intense physicality, which before the weekend was supposed to have been the preserve of England according to their Coach Eddie Jones. In many ways it was the weekend of those chosen to wear the number seven jersey, with the representatives of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and France in said shirts all having massive performances. Scotland’s Hamish Watson was once again inspirational to his team as a one man wrecking ball and perhaps one of the hardest working individuals in Test Rugby – if you want intensity it doesn’t get much more intense than Watson with a full head of steam. Scotland didn’t seem to miss the presence of fly half Finn Russell too much as Adam Hastings provided them with plenty of creativity and a calm head to boot. For us though it was that Scottish pack which really stood out, they pushed Ireland around in the scrums and in the loose were an absolute nightmare to defend against, as well as shutting down any ideas Ireland had about scoring tries for the most part. England will need to up their game and then some if they are looking to get past a determined Scottish outfit that seems to have no problem giving as good as they get in the physical stakes department in the Murrayfield citadel in the wind and the rain. If Scotland play like they did in Dublin and cut out the errors and play to the conditions well, England could find themselves being very unhappy tourists.

Ireland need to score tries plain and simple if they are really going to get themselves back to their lofty heights of 2018. While the players have all been singing the praises of new Coach Andy Farrell, we saw very little in Ireland’s performance on Saturday that looked dramatically different from last year. Sure they did seem to be willing to try their hand at a degree of creativity that had perhaps been stifled under Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt, but Ireland still for the most part looked predictable and flat. They have an exceptionally talented back line, but it appeared to be standing in the queue at the unemployment office for large periods of the match. Fullback Jordan Larmour was clearly itching to have a go all match but Ireland were rarely able to capitalize on some scintillating counterattacks from deep from the number 15. Fly half Johnny Sexton produced one of the best moments of the match with a trademark Sexton try, but for the rest of the match put in a relatively average performance. His partner scrum half Conor Murray looked flat for much of the game and produced endless box kicks that the Scots appeared to know were coming weeks in advance. There were some epic individual performances from CJ Stander in the back row, Tadgh Furlong in the front row and James Ryan continued in his role as the most reliable second rower Ireland has had since Paul O’Connell. But were we left with the impression that this was a much needed new look Ireland? In short – NO. If Ireland are going to cope with the red hot smoking gun that is Wales this weekend, then they need to make a massive improvement in terms of performance. The weather may or may not be their friend this weekend, but they need to focus as a unit much more, as they are now a collection of talented individuals unsure of what type of game they want to play.

The big talking point of the weekend though was without a doubt the dust up in the rain in Paris. Hello France, who under new Coach Fabien Galthie look exciting, refreshing and ridiculously capable. That first 55 minutes were simply mesmerizing as they handed England a 24-0 deficit. New Captain Charles Ollivon always had the potential for greatness in our opinion and he certainly didn’t disappoint with two fine tries in this match. Gregory Alldritt at number eight produced the kind of performance usually reserved for Welsh flanker Justin Tipuric while second rower Bernard le Roux made the English eat their words about their supposed physical prowess. Antoine Dupont made the point that he is likely to be the scrum half of the tournament despite a moment of sheer folly in the 79th minute, and France’s set of backs delivered and then some. However, this French team of relative youngsters did display that alarming French tendency to throw away a perfectly good lead by taking their foot off the gas. England came back at them through two one man rescue missions delivered by English winger Jonny May, and the final ten minutes were a fraught affair for French supporters who were suddenly getting an alarming sense of deja vu. France managed to hold it together but know they really need to tighten up the final quarter of their game, something that is a recurring deficiency for them, despite a truly world class opening sixty. They have a relatively easy training session with Italy this Sunday to get that right before a VERY challenging trip to Wales.

It was England though who perhaps provided the biggest talking point of the weekend. To say that it was an inept performance by the English in Paris would be putting it mildly. If it hadn’t been for the Superhero solo efforts of winger Jonny May, England would have limped away from Paris as the laughing stock of the Six Nations. Their cause wasn’t helped by the ridiculous rhetoric being spouted about physicality and putting the French to the sword being made by Head Coach Eddie Jones prior to the match. Yes we know that it’s all part of trying to psyche the opposition out these days but Jones idiotic and arrogant soundbites these days are rapidly becoming an embarrassment to both players and supporters alike. There are clearly those who like him and those who don’t, but we have to confess to falling into the latter camp. We are also not convinced of his coaching credentials, especially after his selection choices for this match which remain beyond baffling. England are clearly in danger of becoming the most over hyped team in Test rugby at the moment, especially when you put their 2019 season into perspective. Sure they made a World Cup final, but there’s no denying they didn’t quite show up for it and were utterly out played by South Africa. Yes they beat a poor New Zealand side in the semi-finals, and for the rest of it had a relatively easy path to that fixture in the pool and quarter-final stages – let’s be honest beating Australia in the quarters wasn’t exactly difficult as most teams could have managed it. To top it off they didn’t win the Six Nations last year and other than putting Ireland to the sword weren’t exactly awe inspiring and narrowly avoided some massive embarrassment courtesy of the Scots in the final game of the tournament.

England have enormous talent, make no mistake and even the team that journeyed to Paris would be the envy of most Coaches, were it managed properly. England have a golden opportunity to build towards the next generation with a new crop of young players, something France has clearly embraced with open arms. England has massive problems at scrum half, with Ben Youngs a consistent weak link in the chain and Willi Heinz likely to be well past his sell by date come the next World Cup. England has an extraordinary talent in Alex Dombrandt for the eight jersey yet for reasons best known to himself Eddie Jones decided to take one of the world’s best up and coming open side flankers in Tom Curry and shift him to number eight. England’s entire second and back row looked so unbalanced on Sunday it was almost laughable and France clearly couldn’t believe their good fortune. Owen Farrell continued to stick his head in the sand like some wounded ostrich as things unraveled for England and leadership went out the window as a result. Manu Tuilagi is too predictable at centre and is simply not long-term Test material due to his unfortunate run of luck with persistent injuries, while debutant fullback George Furbank got thrown in at the deep end and failed to rise to the occassion. England found a bit of their mojo once winger Jonny May decided to take matters into his own hands in the 57th minute, but prior to that we really weren’t quite sure where the “greatest ever rugby team in the making” to quote Jones actually was – not in Paris that’s for sure. Our heart goes out to English players and supporters who know they are far better than this and it remains to be seen if Paris was simply a blip on the radar or the beginning of England’s winter of discontent. We fear that their trip to Murrayfield this Saturday in the driving rain and a howling wind and cauldron of fervent Scottish supporters could well be something they might want to forget in a hurry. Jones has remained stubborn once more in his choices and perhaps he really does know something we all don’t, but we’re beginning to wonder if it’s more in the tea leaves than the playbooks.

Super Rugby

The season got off to an entertaining start last weekend, with some notable surprises. Perhaps the biggest talking points were Japan’s Sunwolves unexpected win over Australia’s Rebels and South Africa’s Stormers thrashing of traditional Super Rugby powerhouse New Zealand’s Hurricanes. Meanwhile New Zealand’s Crusaders and Argentina’s Jaguares got comfortable wins over Australia’s Waratahs and South Africa’s Lions respectively.

In the local derbies in each of the respective conferences, there were few surprises in New Zealand as the Chiefs emerged victorious over the Blues while in Australia the Brumbies got the better of the Reds in a feisty and entertaining match. In South Africa, the traditional rivalry between the Bulls and the Sharks provided a match which saw the Sharks the more accomplished side.

As mentioned the big surprise was the Sunwolves shock defeat of the Rebels, especially since the Sunwolves face their final season in Super Rugby with a very depleted squad and very few if any well known names. The Rebels on the other hand brought a Wallaby studded team to Fukouka but really struggled to get any traction against their Japanese hosts in an error strewn performance. The Rebels did manage a comeback in the second half but it wasn’t enough for a bonus point loss, and the Sunwolves now find themselves in the unique position of sitting atop the Australian conference with a bonus point win. Once again what that says about the actual state of Australian rugby is potentially alarming and it remains to be seen how competitive Australian teams will be this year both at Super Rugby and international level, given the continuing turmoil going on in the game at home.

The Stormers got off to a dream start as they eclipsed the Hurricanes 27-0 with Captain Siya Kolisi and scrum half Herschel Jantjies putting in some very impressive performances. Jantjies in particular is a remarkable player and expect to see the 23 year old Springbok lighting up pitches across the globe between now and the next World Cup. One negative of the game was an injury that will see Kolisi miss much of the Stormers regular season but the Stormers certainly don’t look short on talent this year. Despite some very big names in the Hurricanes squad, it was an exceptionally uncharacteristic error strewn performance from them, and it is rare to see such a quality side so utterly outclassed and outplayed. We doubt it will stay that way for long as there is just too much talent in the Hurricanes lineup, but it will certainly have rattled their confidence ahead of a difficult trip to Buenos Aires this Saturday.

The Stormers annihilation of the Hurricanes, wasn’t good enough to see them top the South African conference in the opening weekend, as that honor went to Argentina’s Jaguares. Despite missing a raft of big international stars who have been snapped up by European clubs the Jaguares exciting blend of youth and experience looked very much the finished product as they dismantled South Africa’s Lions in an almost leisurely fashion. They face a sterner test this weekend in theory against a wounded Hurricanes side, but we have a fairly strong hunch that they look set once again to go deep into the tournament this year which also bodes well for the Pumas once their season gets underway later in the year.

In short, despite some initial reservations we thoroughly enjoyed the opening round of this year’s tournament and look forward to plenty more.

Major League Rugby

It’s back, and promises to be even better than last year with 12 teams and a host of international big names added to some of the squads. The Toronto Arrows get their season underway this weekend against Austin Herd and both times these teams met each other last year Toronto came out on top. We expect more of the same this weekend, barring opening night nerves from both teams, and it should give Toronto some much needed confidence for their encounter with two times MLR defending champions the Seattle Seawolves in two weeks time. Just like last year Toronto will play their first 7 games on the road before returning to Toronto for an extended run of home games to accommodate Toronto’s inclement winter weather in February and March. TSN has the broadcast rights, so coverage of the games will be so much more consistent and better quality than last year, and we can’t wait for it all to get underway.

Enjoy and see you next week!


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


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!



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!






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.




Canada’s first foray into professional rugby union, as represented by the Toronto Arrows, saw Major League Rugby play its first game on Canadian soil this afternoon at York University’s Lions Stadium. While the Arrows suffered a narrow loss to New Orleans Gold by 35-31, as an event it was definitely something to savor. We were delighted to be there and felt it heralded a bright start to the growth of professional rugby in this country. Toronto have played their first eight games away from home, and their remaining eight of the season will be played in Toronto in order to fit around the vagaries of Toronto winter weather in February and March.

Sunday’s match saw Toronto play their first game in front of their home fans against current Major League Rugby’s top ranked team, New Orleans or NOLA Gold as they are known as. It was a sellout crowd and despite problems with the scoreboard keeper clearly having difficulty understanding the scoring etiquette of rugby union, leading to some interesting scores posted early in the match, Toronto’s first home game was clearly a big hit with an enthusiastic and very vocal sellout crowd of 3,081.

Toronto came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders and would get the first points on the board in just two minutes through an excellent try out wide from winger Dan Moor. From there NOLA would hit back and put in a solid shift for the next 12 minutes which would see them score three tries. The first was a penalty try at the seven minute mark after some solid defence up front from Toronto but their discipline started to take a hit in what was proving to be a very physical challenge being put in by both sides. To be honest we felt the refereeing at times seemed slightly off the mark, with some calls clearly not going Toronto’s way. In a few instances this gave way to some justified righteous indignation from Captain and number 8 Lucas Rumball, who himself was the subject of one slightly suspect call which ultimately would contribute to the buildup towards NOLA’s first points on the board through a penalty try.

With the scores level, NOLA bagged two quick and relatively soft tries. The first from NOLA fullback JP Eloff exposed some of Toronto’s defensive frailties out wide, while the second from South African born centre Tristan Blewett was a gift as Arrows fly half Sam Malcolm threw a wildly speculative cutout pass that was superbly read by the NOLA centre.

Toronto however was clearly having the advantage in the scrum as a series of scrum penalties went their way. They used their set piece dominance to full advantage and ultimately released Uruguayan fullback Gaston Mieres out wide in the corner for their second try, even if some of the passing seemed slightly overambitious at times – a characteristic that typified much of Toronto’s first half. While it certainly thrilled the home crowd with an exciting display of free-flowing attacking rugby at times, it no doubt left the coaching staff with a few more grey hairs.

NOLA would soon hit back and in a period of sustained pressure in Toronto’s 22, prop Ben Tarr would crash over to give the Americans their fourth try and a comfortable lead heading towards half time.

Canadian International and NOLA lock Kyle Baillie would pick up a yellow card for a high tackle with five minutes to go in the half, forcing NOLA to see out the half with just fourteen men. Toronto would use it to their advantage to strike back once more through Mieres in the last act of the first half, as the flying Uruguayan showed off some fancy footwork to dot the ball down in the corner once more off the back of a Toronto lineout. It had been a frenetic but highly entertaining first half and the crowd had clearly enjoyed it as the teams headed into the break with NOLA in front 28-19. However, Toronto’s organization had let them down at times coupled with some overly ambitious attacking play. They needed to head into the second half looking more structured and better organized defensively.

Toronto had to score first in the second half and proceeded to do just that. After some solid pressure on NOLA, which showed Toronto’s physicality count once more, scrum half Andrew Ferguson would get the Arrows fourth try off the back of a scrum after Toronto had spent much of the first ten minutes camped in NOLA’s 22. At 26-28 it was definitely game on and the home crowd really began to get behind the Arrows.

Another solid passage of play from Toronto would see prop Morgan Mitchell crash over for Toronto’s fifth try and put the home side in the lead at 31-28. Toronto looked tighter and much better organised in the second half, and their defence for the most part was outstanding particularly in midfield. However, it needed to be as from this point on NOLA slowly started to exert a stranglehold on the match and were beginning to dominate the possession stakes.

NOLA were still being made to do all the hard work despite having more of the possession and were continuing to have to run from deep, with Toronto effectively shutting down their assaults on the halfway mark. However, with five minutes to go, NOLA managed to find some chinks in the Arrows armor. Some poor discipline at the end under pressure would ultimately see Toronto concede the try that would see their first home game end in a loss, as NOLA fly half Scott Gale would find the gap that up to that point had been eluding his side close to the try line. At the final whistle NOLA would emerge the victors 35-31 but knew they had been made to work for every inch of it in a highly entertaining match that provided a worthy spectacle as the Arrows first home game. Had Toronto been slightly more effective in converting their tries from the kicking tee, then it could easily have been a draw, as NOLA managed to slot all their shots at goal.

Despite the loss there is no doubt that Toronto’s first home game can be classed as a raging success. The loud and enthusiastic local support was there for everyone to see, and the team rose to the occasion. They were unlucky to lose, but to hold the top team in the league as close as they did, will surely mean that with a run of seven home games till the knockout stages, the next two months should be very productive for the Arrows. Boasting a healthy contingent of some of Canadian rugby’s most promising young talent, today’s match was an excellent advertisement for the development of the game in this country and we look forward with great enthusiasm to the remainder of the Toronto Arrows’ promising start in North American professional rugby!