Source: Neil Davidson/ The Canadian Press
It was a big day for the Toronto Arrows as they officially introduced themselves to the city. The festivities began with a press conference at 11am at Scotiabank Arena and concluded with the Official Launch Party at RealSports Bar and Grill. The day provided plenty of newsworthy moments. At the press conference, Bill Webb gave a rundown of how the Arrows came to be and he highlighted the success of the Ontario Arrows exhibition season as a major factor in being included in Major League Rugby for the 2018 season. Webb also unveiled that the Arrows do not officially have their stadium yet. However, later that night Webb did say the stadium is known, but due to the city of Toronto's restrictions the Arrows have been instructed to hold off on the official announcement until next week.
The Arrows also unveiled their online team shop. The Arrows have partnered with The Rugby Shop for their online store. Webb does state that there is still plenty of time to get orders in before Christmas (the Rugby Shop specifically says that you have until December 17th), The website does offer a wide range of apparel including jerseys, sweatshirts, tshirts, hats, touques, and scarves.
There were also a number of announcements regarding the rugby operations of the club. Mark Winokur, Arrows Vice-President and GM, who introduced the coaching staff and announced 13 new signings to round out the Arrows roster. The coaching staff is as follows:
Director of Rugby: Chris Silverthorn
Coach: Cory Hector
Coach: Aaron Carpenter
Coach: Peter Smith
Performance Analyst: Rodin ‘Koko’ Lozada
Strength & Conditioning Coaches: Sean Harrison and Jeff Watson
The Ontario Blues are well represented by the coaching staff. Winokur, Silverthorn, and Lozada are all long-time members of the Blues staff that built a dynasty in the Canadian Rugby Championship. Carpenter, the most capped Canadian in history (77), also spent time as a member of the Blues staff last year. Carpenter is recently retired and will be heading into his 2nd year as a coach. Cory Hector joins the Arrows from the University of Guelph where he led the Gryphons to an OUA Championship in 2017. Under Hector’s guidance, the Gryphons have appeared in 5 straight OUA Finals from 2013-2018. Hector was also a member of Winokur’s staff with the Ontario Blues. Like Carpenter, Smith is a recently retired player. Last year, Smith played flyhalf for the Seattle Seawolves and helped the Seawolves become the inaugural MLR Champions.
Winokur also unveiled the final 13 players that filled out the Arrow roster:
Prop: Tom Dolezel
Hooker: Andrew Quattrin
Lock: Kolby Francis, Mike Sheppard
Back Row: John Moonlight, Jack Nay, Marcello Wainwright
Backs: Riley Di Nardo, Guiseppe du Toit, Leandro Leivas, Jamie Leveridge, Mitch Richardson, John Sheridan.
Of the 13 new signings, there are a few names that certainly stand out. 2018 Ontario Arrows captain was among the new signings. Sheppard was at the press conference and in uniform alongside Lucas Rumball. All 3 of Sheppard’s Canada caps came in the Repechage Tournament. Sheppard was subbed on in the 62nd minute of Canada’s opening match against Kenya. He scored a try in his debut and earned his way into a starting spot for the games against Germany and Hong Kong. Although Sheppard was the Ontario Arrows captain, Winokur and Silverthorn did not announce him as the captain today. The Arrows have plenty of great leaders on the team including Rumball who has captained Canada for a match. Regardless, Sheppard will be a vital part of the Arrows leadership group.
By far the biggest name signed is John Moonlight. Moonlight is a Canadian legend in sevens. He has represented Canada in 318 matches in the World Rugby Sevens Series where he scored 116 tries. Additionally, Moonlight has won 2 Pan Am Games Gold medals. He is also capped 23 times for the XV side scoring 4 tries and playing in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Moonlight and the Arrows only agreed to a contract less than a week ago. The announcement was certainly a surprise to many including some Arrows staff. Just 4 months ago, Moonlight had announced his retirement to pursue his career as a firefighter in his hometown of Pickering.
Moonlight will join a loaded Arrows back row that also features Lucas Rumball, Peter Milazzo, Marcello Wainwright, and Jack Nay. Nay joins the squad from the Bedford Blues of the RFU Championship. Nay has grown up going through the Saracens academy system and is in Bedford on loan. The move seems to be intended for Nay to get more playing time. The Saracens are one of the top clubs in the world and if is very difficult to crack the lineup with a back row that features Schalk Burger and Billy Vunipola. The only other international player announced on Tuesday was Leandro Leivas. Leivas joins Gaston Mieres as the Arrows 2nd Los Teros. Leivas is a winger who has 24 tries in 71 caps for Uruguay.
At the press conference, Silverthorn said that he wants high school rugby players to dream of becoming Arrows. The Arrows are clearly focused on bettering Canadian rugby as a whole and the overall roster is an indication of that. Only 5 players Nay, Mieres, Leivas, Mitchell Morgan, and Sam Malcolm are not eligible to play for Canada. Additionally, the vast majority of the players have been developed in the Ontario provincial system. Those players are now being provided a way to play professional rugby close to home. This will only help Canada develop as a better rugby nation. The players get to spend more time in a professional environment and more time playing with each other. For that reason, the Arrows will be vital to the success of the Canadian national team.
The new wave of signings sees Mike Sheppard, John Moonlight, Tom Dolezel, and Guiseppe du Toit join the list of Arrows with test caps for Canada. With the new additions, the Arrows now feature 12 players who have earned caps for Canada. All 12 of these players constantly playing with each other and being given the chance to develop with each other will only make Canada better. Giving kids something to strive for will also increase the talent pool that the Ontario Blues, Toronto Arrows, and Canada can develop athletes from. If kids can see a viable professional option that is close to home, the will be more likely to stay in the sport.
Now that the coaching staff and the rosters are set, the official preparations for the Toronto Arrows inaugural season begin. The Arrows will open training camp in Whitby on December 15th.