Source: @joseromelo via @TorontoArrows
The Toronto Arrows improved to 5-5-0 as they defeated the Houston SaberCats 35-21 on Sunday afternoon. The win marks the Arrows first victory on home soil. In addition to the win, the Arrows were able to pick up a try bonus thanks to tries from Kolby Francis, Theo Sauder, Andrew Quattrin, Mike Sheppard, and Kainoa Lloyd.
The opening 20 minutes were fantastic from the Arrows. They controlled the play and all of the territory. Francis and Sauder picked up tries in the 4th and 19th minutes. Both tries were converted by Sam Malcolm and the Arrows were out to a quick 14-0 lead. The Arrows also had a Lucas Rumball try called back in the 14th minute. Unfortunately, the only reason this try was called back was because the referees were in a poor position. From the point of view of the crowd and the press box, it seemed clear that Rumball grounded the ball. The television broadcast also confirmed it. It’s obviously difficult for the referees to reverse the call without TMO. However, in a league where points and tries are two of the tiebreakers, it really hurts to see such an obvious try go undetected (even if Sauder scored just minutes later). Soon after, Houston began to push back. They began playing in Toronto’s end a lot more, but the Arrows defence was building off their outing against NOLA and held firm. With an attacking lineout just 5m out from Houston’s line, the Arrows brought all hands on deck as the backs joined in on the maul. Quattrin would be the man that touched it down in the end and the Arrows held a 21 point lead. The Arrows pack looked amazing on this play.
The final 10 minutes of the opening half was a lot sloppier from the Arrows. Houston was able to climb back into the game with tries from Zach Pangelinan and Pat O’Toole (who were easily the two best SaberCats in this game). Pangelinan’s try was a well-worked play from the scrum. The SaberCats tried a similar play earlier in the game, but Connor Murphy ended up passing the ball to the crowd. O’Toole’s try was pretty bad from the Arrows point of view. Osea Kolinisau was allowed to run laterally nearly the width of the field before finding O’Toole with a pass. Kolinisau’s lateral movement somehow managed to create an overlap on the wing. Leivas had to defend the 2-on-1 and O’Toole went around him for the try. It’s a blemish on an otherwise solid defensive performance form the Arrows. The worst thing in that 10 minutes though was the Arrows lost Sam Malcolm to an ankle injury. Malcolm is obviously one of the Arrows key players and a big loss. Shawn Windsor replaced him at flyhalf and Giuseppe du Toit took over the kicking duties.
The Arrows began the 2nd half by giving up an incredibly soft penalty try. Still scratching my head at that one. There was plenty of scrum resets throughout the game, however, Summers decided to award the penalty try after one Arrows penalty. The broadcast picked up Cole Keith trying to argue that call, but it was to no avail. The penalty try levelled the score. The Arrows were able to pick their play back up again and applied some pressure to the SaberCats defense. Mike Sheppard had a 52nd minute try and du Toit continued where Malcolm left off and converted the try. Through most of the 2nd half, the Arrows defense was solid. Moor and Oitomen covered their wing well and frequently forced bad passes and players into touch. The Arrows defense led to a number of Houston errors, but they still had a few self-inflicted wounds. Houston’s passing and execution with the ball in hand was not the greatest. Kainoa Lloyd took advantage of that and pounced on an errant pass and cruised in for the try completely uncontested. Ultimately, although the game was far from perfect, the Arrows picked up 5 much-needed points in the standings.
One of the key concerns for Arrows fans following the game is the health of Sam Malcolm. In the 36th minute, he began limping around noticeably favouring his right leg. Arrows’ Director of Rugby Chris Silverthorn quickly made the call to replace him with Shawn Windsor. When the half concluded and both clubs made their way back to the locker room, Malcolm appeared to be walking slowly but no longer limping. After the match Silverthorn alleviated all concerns about Malcolm’s health: “He’s actually fine. It’s just a rolled ankle and it looks like he’s going to be ok”. So, it sounds like Malcolm should be good to go for next week’s big match with Seattle. Silverthorn admitted that there was “a bit of a communication disconnect to start” when Windsor first came onto the pitch. However, he would soon pick up his game. Windsor did a solid job filling in for Malcolm at flyhalf. Windsor had a handful of nice tackles on defense and effectively distributed the ball throughout the 2nd half. Du Toit took over the kicking duties from Malcolm and du Toit realizes it is “huge, massive shoes to fill.” Du Toit did an admirable job in Malcolm’s absence. Du Toit went 2/2 on his conversions giving Arrows’ kickers a perfect 5/5 day. Du Toit credits the Arrows coaching staff for his preparation to ensure that he will always be ready to step up in these situations.
As mentioned in the match preview, the scrums were going to play a big role in this game. Much like the game itself, the scrums seemed to go back and forth throughout the game. Both teams had a try from set-piece plays following scrums (Sauder and Pangelinan). Of course, Houston’s penalty try was the result of a scrum (although, I still do not like the call). It was a solid battle in the scrum however, the scrum did not end up being the deciding factor in the game.
The Arrows did play some solid defense throughout the match. They defended the wings well, came up with a number of turnovers in the ruck, and were making hits behind the gain line. The O’Toole try is a blemish, but other than that a solid performance. The Arrows were able to get off the line quickly and Houston began hearing footsteps. The SaberCats had a number of plays where passes were rushed. Passes were unable to find their mark either resulting in knock-ons or just flying straight out of bounds. If the passes did connect, the wingers would often be met by Oitomen, Leivas, or Moor to hit them into touch. Mike Sheppard’s try started when Leivas kicked a poor pass out of the air and led the Arrows chase downfield. Kainoa Lloyd also benefited from the SaberCats poor execution as he ran back an intercepted pass for a try of his own. Ultimately, the Arrows ability to disrupt the SaberCats flow was the deciding factor.
Overall, it’s an exciting win because it is the first win on home soil. The Arrows pick up a big 5 points in the standings. However, the Arrows know that they can play better. Silverthorn stated that the game was too “stop and start” and felt that the Arrows never really found their rhythm throughout the match. Captain Dan Moor also believes that the Arrows still “haven’t been punching at our full weight on d.” Again, the defense was good in this match. However, there were some moments shaky moments though most notably O’Toole’s try. The Arrows have a big matchup against Seattle next week and the Arrows defense will need to be strong in that game in order to pick up the win. Moor knows that there are things that need to be cleaned up on both sides of the ball, but he said the most important thing to work on is “game management”. The Arrows will need to have solid game management in order to defeat Seattle and make sure that they are in control of the ball at the critical junctures of the game.
The Arrows will celebrate their first ever win on home soil, but it will be straight back to work to ensure they are at the top of their game next week. A big win against the defending champions will go along way as they hunt down a playoff spot.