The Toronto Arrows earned a massive bonus point victory Sunday afternoon as they defeated the Seattle Seawolves 29-7. The game was their “best defensive performance by far “according to Director of Rugby Chris Silverthorn. There is no doubting his statement. The Arrows completely stifled any and all offense that Seattle attempted to throw their way. The Arrows best defensive performance of the year could not have come at a better time. The bonus point win brings them to just 4 points back of a playoff spot. More importantly, it proves to the rest of the league how thoroughly they are capable of beating the top teams in the league. It sends a message that with just 5 games remaining, the Arrows are a threat in the playoff race.
If you like defense this was the game for you. The Toronto Arrows were in control of the territory in the first half. However, the famed Seawall lived up to the billing and the Arrows struggled to turn their pressure into points. Mike Sheppard was the victim of a dangerous tackle from Roland Suniula. Sheppard would be alright and Sam Malcolm slotted the penalty to put the Arrows up 3-0 in the 25th minute. Malcolm’s penalty broke a 3-game streak of neither team attempting penalty goals in a Toronto Arrows game. Soon after, Leandro Leivas would take be sent to the sin bin for his 2nd intentional knock-on. The Arrows would not be phased and Mike Sheppard would score a try in the corner while the Arrows were down a man. The Arrows would head into halftime with an 8-0 lead. Halftime would also mark the end of Leivas’ 10 minutes in the bin. Leivas returned in time to follow up a great run from Guiseppe du Toit and extend the Arrows lead. Shalom Suniula would eventually find a whole in the Arrows defence and scored a try under the sticks. Staller made the easy conversion and Seattle cut the lead to 15-7. In the 70th minute with Seattle pressing, the Arrows generated a turnover at the breakdown. The ball found its way to Dan Moor who turned on the afterburners and took it all the way. Moor’s try, and the fun celebration that followed, visibly fired up the team and the crowd. Toronto converted that energy into another try as Paul Ciulini scored under the posts. As the clock hit 80:00, Sam Malcolm kicked the ball into touch and the Arrows walked away with a crucial bonus point win while denying the Seawolves any points in the standings.
The big story in this game was the Arrows defence. It was simply fantastic, especially in the 2nd half. Throughout the game, Seattle could not generate any real offensive threat. They did not spend a lot of time in the Arrows 22. When they got inside, Toronto was there to turn them back. Suniula had a nice run on his try. He made a few defenders miss and took advantage of some space in the Arrows line. But that was it. There we few times in this match where Seattle’s offense looked dangerous and ultimately, they came away with nothing. Even after Suniula’s try, the Arrows never gave Seattle another opportunity to score. Instead, they scored two tries of their own and played much of the closing minutes in the Seawolves end.
One of the biggest sequences in the game that helps illustrate the Arrows territorial control in this game was between the 29th and 39th minute when Leivas was serving his yellow card. Despite being down a man, the Arrows still managed to apply pressure to the Seawolves. This cumulated in a Mike Sheppard try that put the Arrows up 8-0. On that play, the Arrows executed a great lineout that saw du Toit break through the Seattle line on the first carry. The Arrows put together some nice phases. Despite being shorthanded, the Arrows created an overlap and Sheppard took a pass from Malcolm to finish off the play. Ultimately the Arrows escaped Leivas yellow with 5 points to Seattle’s 0. “To have that swing to a positive was a really big play for us” said captain Dan Moor after the game. That 10-minute stretch and the try were huge because it allowed the Arrows to head into halftime with a lead and they returned for the 2nd half with a full complement.
The Arrows came out in the 2nd half and put together their best half of the year. Following a collapsed maul, Jamie Mackenzie found du Toit who ran an excellent line and cleanly got through the Seattle line. He was dragged down just a metre shy of the line. Leivas was able to come in and finish off the play. The Arrows were able to keep building on that momentum and they continued to dominate the territorial battle in the 2nd half. It was an incredibly windy day at York Alumni and there was some concern that the Arrows wouldn’t be able to continue to control the territory. However, the wind did not matter and the Arrows continued to control the game. Malcolm was a huge factor in this. At times, the game turned into a kicking duel. Malcolm was always able to find some space and the Arrows frequently came out on top in these exchanges. The defense continued to give the Seawolves nothing to work with. Marcello Wainwright had his best game of the season and made a number of key plays. Mike Sheppard should earn his 4th straight First XV spot. He was once again fantastic for all 80 minutes. Lucas Rumball had a number of strong carries and played well in defense. He shares Silverthorn’s belief that this was the Arrows best defensive performance of the year. In the past, Rumball said that the Arrows were “too antsy” at times. However, against Seattle “we were comfortable in our own defense, comfortable making tackles, getting up, getting back in the line, forcing the other team to make a mistake and pouncing on it when they did” said Rumball following the game. One of those mistakes was made by Ryan Youngman. In the 69th minute, Rob Brouwer came off the defensive line quickly. Youngman couldn’t handle the pass from JP Smith and Brouwer pounced on the ball. After Brouwer created the turnover, the ball made its way to Moor who absolutely took off. Moor dashed 62 metres for a massive insurance try for the Arrows. It was a try that was proceeded by players like Wainwright, Sheppard, and Brouwer being terrific in defense. Their defense created Moor’s opportunity and Moor capitalized. The next big Seattle mistake was when they put the ensuing kickoff through the in-goal area. The Arrows dominated the scrum (which they had done all day) and marched the ball down the field for Ciulini’s try that sealed the game. Two big mistakes from Seattle that all started with the Arrows stifling defense.
Ultimately though, in order for the defense to play this well, every player in a white jersey put in a strong performance. The 1st half was solid, the 2nd half was outstanding. If the Arrow keep playing like they did in the in that 2nd half they will ruin someone’s season. The Arrows now sit 4 points out of a playoff spot. They have plenty of momentum. They just beat the defending champs in a decisive victory and put together 2 wins in a row for the first time this season. The playoff race is far from over. I called this game the biggest game of the Arrows season. Now the biggest game of the year will be next Sunday against San Diego.
Prior to the game the Toronto Arrows and Seattle Seawolves honoured the career of Ray Barkwill. Barkwill, one of the best hookers in Canada’s rugby history, was greeted by the over 2000 fans in attendance with a roaring ovation and a “Thank You Ray” chant. Arrows General Manager Mark Winokur presented Barkwill with a white Arrows #2 jersey and a framed photo from Barkwill’s Ontario Blues days. “Obviously it’s very special” Barkwill said of the moment. Barkwill thanked Bill Webb and Winokur for helping to make the day happen. Barkwill played for the Ontario Blues and the Seattle Seawolves and knows plenty of people on both sides of the ball. So, when asked to pick a game Barkwill said it was “pretty easy” to go with the Seattle vs Toronto match. Barkwill listed winning 3 National Championships with the Ontario Blues, his 1st cap with Canada, his 50th cap with Canada, going to the Rugby World Cup, and winning the inaugural MLR Championship, as some of his favourite memories of his career. As for what is next? “I’m pushing right now to go into coaching”. Ray also teased those coaching plans a little more adding “I think you will find out quickly that I’ll be with an organization or a team relatively soon”. Barkwill had a terrific career and it was great to see him celebrated ahead of the game. In the words of both the Seawolves fans and Arrows fans in attendance…
THANK YOU RAY...