Source: Bernard Ayala
The Toronto Arrows continue to reload ahead of the 2021 Major League Rugby season, as the club has announced their fourth group of signings. There were no new additions this time around, but all five re-signed players were key cogs in the Arrows machine. Los Teros eightman Manuel Diana is the lone forward in a group that also includes Tayler Adams, Guiseppe du Toit, Leandro Leivas, and Ben LeSage.
Manuel Diana was a monster for the Arrows in the abbreviated 2020 season. For a league that saw some legendary names like Mathieu Bastareaud and Ma’a Nonu join its ranks last season, there is certainly an argument to be made that Diana was the best signing heading into 2020 (although, he has to have that argument with Tomás de la Vega).
Diana was an absolute workhorse with the ball in hand. He scored 2 tries, led the MLR in carries with 59 (tied with de la Vega) and led the Arrows in metres carried with 286. Those 286m were good for 6th among forwards in MLR and 19th overall. Diana is an exceptional ball carrier and is a nightmare for defending teams to bring down.
During the Arrows 39-17 win over the Seattle Seawolves in 2020, Diana had 16 carries for 97m which led the team. He played 53 minutes. Diana is also solid on the defensive side of the ball making 33 tackles (at 87%) during the 2020 season.
The Arrows have done well to bring back their deep back row for 2021. Earlier in the offseason, reports of Premiership club Bristol Bears courting Diana began to surface. Arrows fans can now rest easy that the elite Uruguayan talent is staying in the blue and white. Diana joins de la Vega, Marcello Wainwright, Kolby Francis, and Siaki Vikilani as back rows that have been officially signed.
It appears that the Arrows back row will remain the deepest position on the deepest team in MLR. Peter Milazzo and Lucas Rumball are the two remaining 2020 flankers that have yet to be announced as returning (although, Rumball was featured in this article by Joe Harvey and is heavily indicating that he is back).
Tayler Adams joined the squad in 2020 and took over the flyhalf position as Sam Malcolm shifted to fullback. Adams brought plenty of x-factor to the Arrows backline. Throughout the 2020 campaign, Adams demonstrated an exceptional ability to pass the ball.
As a flyhalf, Adams also showed great rugby IQ and was able to combine those skills to set up tries for his teammates (although he never scored one himself). Adams also processes excellent game management skills and kicked for 1,146m with deadly accuracy. Adams’ ability with his boot was instrumental in the Arrows controlling territory and ensuring that they were always playing in the right part of the park at key moments.
With Malcolm moving on to Japan, the Arrows have added flyhalf/fullback Juan Cruz González. González has played flyhalf for the Argentina XV at the Americas Rugby Championship. The Arrows now have three legit options at flyhalf in Adams, González, and Will Kelly. If I were to peer into my crystal rugby ball, I would guess that Adams will likely start at flyhalf with González at fullback and Kelly in the reserves. Adams and González are two offensively minded players that could create an exciting brand of rugby.
Additionally, Malcolm signing elsewhere means that the position of the Arrows’ goal kicker is now available. Malcolm handled most of the workload in the abbreviated season, but Adams still recorded 9 points (3 conversions and 1 penalty). Ultimately, Adams was 4/5 (80%) from the tee in 2020.
One player that Adams will be competing with for the position of goal kicker is Guiseppe du Toit. Prior to Adams’ arrival, du Toit was the next man up in the rare instance that Malcolm was unavailable to kick. Du Toit was 2/2 in a 2019 home match with the Houston SaberCats after Malcolm left with an ankle injury. Ultimately, Malcolm has handled the vast majority of the kicking duties in 2019 and 2020. Perhaps, Adams has the edge as he was the 2nd choice goal kicker in 2020.
Du Toit has developed into one of the premier centres in MLR and has become one of the Arrows’ key decision makers in the backline. In 2020, du Toit racked up 156 metres carried, 13 passes, 212 kicking metres, 50 tackles (86% completion), and 1 try. The 50 tackles are an impressive total as it ranks him among the top defensive backs in MLR. The Arrows had the number 1 ranked defense in MLR in 2020 and du Toit played a major role in that defense as he made it incredibly difficult on opposing players coming though his channel.
Du Toit formed a terrific centre combination with Ben LeSage who was also announced to be returning for 2020. After earning the 13 jersey throughout Canada’s entire 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign, LeSage joined the Arrows on his first pro contract heading into 2020. One thing that drew LeSage to the Arrows was the centre depth as he looked to improve his game.
An injury to Spencer Jones opened the door for LeSage to start the season in the 13 jersey. LeSage excelled registering 162 metres carried, 37 tackles (84% completion), and a couple jaw dropping try set-ups. Ultimately, LeSage is primed to become the clear starting outside centre for Canada during this RWC cycle. It’s a shame his first year of pro rugby was cut short. LeSage is already one of the top centres in Canada and I’m excited to see what he is capable of in the future.
Of course, if depth is what drew LeSage to the Arrows, depth is what he will continue to receive in 2021. Spencer Jones’ injury will heal up and Mitch Richardson looked poised for a breakout year before the shut down. The Arrows are blessed with four centres that could start on most teams in MLR. With all four returning, it could be quite the fun positional battle come training camp.
We started with a Los Teros, and now end with Los Teros. Leandro Leivas will return to the Arrows in 2021, rejoining his fellow Uruguayans in Diana and Gastón Mieres. The winger had 25 carries for 181 metres and 2 tries in 2020. Leivas has demonstrated some versatility in his deployment. He is more than capable of starting in MLR, but due to the Arrows depth, often found himself coming off the bench in the role of an impact sub.
He often made a big impact in those situations too. Leivas has been involved in many Arrows tries scoring 5 and helping to set up a handful more in his two years with the club. Perhaps his best try came against Austin Elite in 2019 after Shawn Windsor sent him a ridiculous offload, Leivas used his pace to out run the Elite defenders before steamrolling Soheyl Jaoudat to score.
Leivas could once again find himself in a similar position for the 2021 season. Sam Malcolm and Dan Moor have moved on, but González will slot into the fullback position. As of right now, the Arrows back three is Leivas, Mieres, and González with a direct replacement for Moor still on the way.
That addition, could create some fascinating lineup options for Mark Winokur to ponder. Ultimately. The Arrows’ backline will continue to be one of the best and deepest in MLR heading into the 2021 season.
With the addition of Diana, Adams, du Toit, LeSage, and Leivas, the Arrows official 2021 roster is now at 21 players:
Prop- Richie Asiata
Prop- Gastón Cortés
Prop- Cole Keith
Prop- Tyler Rowland
Hooker- Steven Ng
Lock- Paul Ciulini
Lock/No8- Kolby Francis
No8- Manuel Diana
Lock- Adrian Wadden
Back Row- Tomás de la Vega
Back Row- Siaki Vikilani
Back Row- Marcello Wainwright
Flyhalf- Tayler Adams
Flyhalf- Will Kelly
Centre- Guiseppe du Toit
Centre- Spencer Jones
Centre- Ben LeSage
Centre- Mitch Richardson
Wing- Leandro Leivas
Fullback/Flyhalf- Juan Cruz González
Fullback/Wing- Gastón Mieres
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