Source: Dave Snook via torontoarrows.com
It had been happening all game long. Rugby United New York was trailing 21-17 in the 76th minute and they were looking to set up another driving maul, a play that gave Dylan Fawsitt 2 tries earlier in the game. Fawsitt connected with Ross Deacon on the lineout throw and RUNY began to drive. This time the Toronto Arrows were able to hold up Fawsitt. A 5m scrum was awarded. Time slowly ticked away as the scrum was reset (a trend in this game). RUNY was able to get the ball out of the scrum and began to work on the Arrows defense. RUNY ran pick and go’s for about 90 seconds as the Arrows held the goal line. Finally, with 30 seconds left on the clock, John Quill managed to break through for the game-winning try. Toronto would lose 24-21 in an absolute heartbreaker.
Despite the loss, this was probably the Toronto Arrows’ best game all season. They were up against the strongest 23 man squad they have faced and put in a fantastic performance. It just boiled down to a heartbreaking end. As anticipated, the forward packs were the stars of the show. There were plenty of scrums, plenty of mauls, and plenty of slowballs that saw the forwards in an intense battle for 80 minutes. The scrums were a bit of a challenge tonight. Referee Scott Green was constantly asking for the scums to be reset. Each scrum was reset two or three times before Green would just reward a penalty. Towards the end of the game, more scrums began to be completed, but even those were reset at least once. Both packs were directly involved in every try of the game. Each try either involved a maul or one team just wearing down the defense with ruck, after ruck, after ruck. All four of RUNY’s tries were scored by forwards (Fawsitt 2, Nate Brakeley, and Quill). The Arrows’ tries were the result of the Arrows forwards grinding away at the RUNY defense to open up holes. Scrumhalf Andrew Ferguson and centre Guiseppe du Toit ended up being the benefactors of the forwards hard work. Forwards were not just creating tries, they were stopping them too. Both packs put in massive efforts with big goal-line stands at various points in the game. No points came easy on Friday night. For the Arrows, a number of forwards had really big moments. Morgan Mitchell absolutely leveled Luke Hume with easily the biggest hit an Arrow has thrown this year. Lucas Rumball held up Ross Deacon to prevent a try. Paul Ciulini was excellent at disrupting the RUNY lineout (the Arrows lineout as a whole was much better too). Steven Ng drew the penalty that allowed Sam Malcolm to extend the Arrows lead to 21-12. Rob Brouwer, Mike Sheppard, Peter Milazzo, and Jack Nay all had big carries and were instrumental at the breakdowns. This was the toughest team that the Arrows have had to face so far this year and they were more than up to the task.
As the game wore on, the Arrows became very effective at creating different attacking angles. As the forwards broke down the RUNY defense, Andrew Ferguson did a great job integrating the backs into the attack. The backs were running terrific attacking lines and RUNY’s defense began scrambling in order to recover. Ultimately, changing the angle of attack led to du Toit’s try. Out of a rare completed scrum, Gaston Mieres had a big run to put Toronto inside RUNY territory. Ferguson then mixed up his options going between the forwards and the backs. Sheppard and Nay both had big carries during this possession. From the ruck, Ferguson found Nay who quickly sent the ball to Malcolm who made the final pass to du Toit as he hit an open hole with pace and cruised across the line. The work of the forwards, both with ball in hand and at the breakdown, gave the backs plenty of room to operate and really had the RUNY defense on their heels. The Arrow changing up the line of attack nearly led to another try. Ferguson mixing up the options seemed to have RUNY confused as they could not anticipate where the ball was going. Ultimately, this created a two on one situation with Kolby Francis and Mieres bearing down on Chris Mattina. Mieres and Francis worked a little give and go but, referee Green deemed Francis’ return pass to be forward. Rugby is a game of inches and if that pass hits the mark, the Toronto Arrows walk out of MCU Park with the win.
Although this game was largely about the forwards, Sam Malcolm and Gaston Mieres had exceptional games for the Arrows. Malcolm had 3 penalty goals and a conversion to go along with a try assist and a number of mammoth tackles on defense. Malcolm was there to help Rumball hold up Deacon to prevent a try and in the 68th minute made a try-saving tackle on Mattina. Mieres was explosive all night. He had some great runs, fielded kicks from Ben Foden and Mattina exceptionally and was big in defense when he was needed. Mieres created a lot of offense for the Arrows and was inches away from having the game-winning try.
James English and Mike Tolkin devised a game plan that targeted a weakness that they found in the Arrows game. RUNY relentlessly attacked the Arrows with maul after maul. Early in the game, Foden, had an exceptional counter-attacking run that ultimately resulted in an Arrows penalty. Foden kicked for touch and RUNY set up their lineout. RUNY drove Toronto right across the line and Fawsitt picked his first try of the game. RUNY would go back to the maul constantly throughout this game. In the 40th minute, Fawsitt scored his 2nd try with the exact same play. RUNY sensed a weakness and just kept pounding away at it. They opened up the 2nd half by setting up a maul off the kickoff and drove the Arrows back 15-20m. Petri played the ball to Foden and RUNY was instantly inside the Arrows half. RUNY did not attempt a single penalty goal in this game. Every time they were awarded a penalty, Foden would step up and kick to touch. This often pinned the Arrows deep in their own end and they would have to defend against another maul. RUNY saw their early success with how effectively they were able to drive the Arrows backwards and decided that the maul would be how they would win this game. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened. RUNY scored 3 tries directly with the maul. In addition to Fawsitt’s 2 tries, Brakeley was able to score after the Arrows stuffed the initial maul. However, after a few pick and go’s, Brakeley dotted down. Quill’s game-winning try came following a 5m scrum after Fawsitt was held up in the maul. Ultimately, RUNY exploited a weakness in the Arrows. The maul defense will have to be something that is addressed by Chris Silverthorn in training over the next two weeks because every team in MLR will be looking at this game as the template for how you can beat the Arrows.
Even though it ended in heartbreaking fashion, this was the Arrows best game of the season. The forwards were great, the backs were great, they did a great job mixing up their attack, and the played some inspired defense. The mauls need work, but that is what bye weeks are for. After one of the shortest turnarounds, you can possibly have, the Toronto Arrows get 15 days off to work on their game. Their next match will be against the Utah Warriors on March 30th. It could be the first time we see a true full strength Arrows squad take the field.