The Toronto Arrows picked up the franchise’s first MLR win after defeating Austin Elite Rugby 23-19 on Friday night. Captain Dan Moor was the hero as he picked up the game-winning try in the 75th minute. Moor began to put himself in contention for the hustle try of the year as he chased down a clearance kick from Spencer Jones. Jones’ kick was fielded by Soheyl Jaoudat who immediately tried to kick it back. Moor charged down Jaoudat’s kick and then won the 15m footrace to the ball and touched it down for the try. The Arrows took the lead but would have to make a big defensive stand before the final whistle. They prevailed and began celebrating their first MLR victory.
The weather seemed to play a big factor in this one. It rained for parts of the match and the temperature at kickoff was around 0°C. The poor conditions led to plenty of knock-ons and poor ball management in general. Both teams looked rather sloppy with the ball at times, but you can’t have perfect weather every week.
The weather led to what ultimately became the deciding factor of this game. When it’s cold and it rains the ball becomes slick. When the ball is slick, you get knock-ons. When there are knock-ons, you get scrums. And oh my goodness, did the Toronto Arrows dominate the scrum. Right from the opening scum just minutes into the game, the Arrows were able to force their will onto the Austin pack. Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, and Morgan Mitchell wreaked havoc on the Austin scrum throughout the game. Their defining moment of the game came in the 51st minute. With a scrum 5m out from the Austin line, Brouwer, Quattrin, and Mitchell led the charge as the Arrows drove Austin back beyond their goal line allowing Kolby Francis to touch down for the Arrows second try. The Arrows scrum was constantly winning penalties and were vital to their ability to regain territory. It became clear in the second half that Austin was not confident in their ability to match up with the Arrows pack in the scrum or in general play. Austin frequently chose to kick at goal on penalties instead of testing the Arrows defense. Ultimately, with the game on the line and Austin forced to attempt to score a try, the Arrows were able to force a turnover to end the game. The scrum being this dominate while missing the likes of Mike Sheppard, Cole Keith, and Lucas Rumball is a great sign for the Arrows going forward. The scrum will get a big test next week though as they visit the defending champions and have to go up against the “Seawall”.
Austin clearly couldn’t handle the Arrows scrum which led them to Timothee Guillimin taking plenty of kicks at goal as a result. Unfortunately for the Arrows, Guillimin was given plenty of opportunities to kick at goal. The Arrows discipline was problematic in this game. Sam Malcolm and Rob Brouwer both picked up yellow cards within 10 minutes of each other forcing the Arrows to play with just 13 men for 3 minutes. The Arrows defence held strong and didn’t allow a point while down 2 men. Marcello Torrealba would eventually find a hole and he picked up Austin’s only try of the match with Brouwer still in the bin. The penalties kept adding up throughout the game and they kept leading to points. Guillimin had 3 penalty goals and Mickael Romera had 1. Ultimately, between the 4 penalty goals and the try, while Brouwer was in the sin bin, all 19 Austin points were the direct result of Toronto penalties. Fortunately, for the Arrows, Guillimin was only 50% on his penalty kicks. The door was open for Austin, Guillimin just couldn’t capitalize. Despite the victory, I can’t imagine Chris Silverthorn is to please with the number of penalties his team gave away on Friday night.
Avery Oitomen was extremely impressive in his first MLR start. The 19-year-old was a force along the Arrows wing. Oitomen took a handful of big hits from Austin defenders. However, he proved that he is more than capable of taking those hits. At one point early in the first half, Oitomen simultaneous trucked over a defender while drawing a high tackle penalty. He didn’t shy away from the physicality often challenging Austin defenders with hard runs at their defensive line. He also made a few impressive takes on the high ball. After Spencer Jones fended off a few Austin tacklers, he found Oitomen on the wing and Oitomen picked up the opening try of the game. He now has a try in each of his first 2 MLR games. Oitomen was one of the best players on the field in this match. Arrows may have a budding superstar on their hands.
However, despite his terrific performance, Oitomen does not get my man of the match honours. That goes to Morgan Mitchell. Mitchell was a key component to the scrum that completely dominated the game. Additionally, Mitchell’s ball carrying ability was on full display Friday night. Mitchell repeatedly required a handful of Austin defenders to bring him down and gained plenty of metres on each carry. He didn’t just smash through guys either, he also showed that he has a few steps in his repertoire. Mitchell was also one of the best Arrows in their match against NOLA after he came on for Cole Keith. If Mitchell keeps playing like this, it will be difficult to take the number 3 jersey away from him.
One of the other key stories from this game was Austin prop Mason Pedersen. Mason Pedersen was on the receiving end of the neck roll that earned Brouwer a yellow card. Pedersen hit his head off the ground in that tackle. Pedersen appeared to be groggy after the hit and stayed down while he was assessed by the training staff. He stayed in the game. Pedersen then hit his head in an attempt to tackle Paul Ciulini just prior to Torrealba’s try. Pedersen was down for a long time and ultimately had to be stretchered off the field. Should Pedersen have been removed from the game following the hit from Brouwer? He probably should have. MLR is a new league and how they handle concussions will be important to how they are perceived in the public eye. The league needs to make sure concussions are handled properly. Hopefully, Pedersen is going to be fine.
The Toronto Arrows should be thrilled to pick up their first win of the season and they deserve to celebrate it. They now turn their attention to the defending champion Seattle Seawolves. The Arrows get their first taste of the Seawall in week 4.