Source: @markdavidjanzen via Twitter
The Toronto Arrows inaugural season has come to an end. The Arrows dropped their first Championship Series game in franchise history to the Seattle Seawolves by a score of 30-17. The Seawolves rode the roar of the Starfire crowd as they jumped out to a massive 23-0 lead in the opening 34 minutes. The Seawolves dominated the open half but the Arrows began to fight their way back into the game. The score was 23-17 with 18 minutes left to play, but Seattle would be able to pull away for good following a penalty try in the 68th minute. The Seawall defense would keep the Arrows off the scoreboard for the remaining 12 minutes. It was a tough ending to a magnificent inaugural season for the Toronto Arrows.
The Seattle Seawolves set the tone early in the match. Djustice Sears-Duru delivered a thunderous hit to Gaston Mieres in the game’s opening moments. Sears-Duru’s hit would be the first of many bone-jarring hits from Seattle over the course of the next 80 minutes. Seattle controlled the play early on and pressured the Arrows defense right from the opening kickoff. The Arrows made a big tryline stand 5 minutes into the match. They kept Seattle from scoring a try but gave away a penalty on the play. Brock Staller stepped up and slotted his first kick of the match to give Seattle an early 3-0 lead. Not even 2 minutes later Ben Cima placed a beautiful chip kick over the top that Mat Turner was able to chase down and collect. Turner passed to Shalom Suniula, who then made a final pass to JP Smith to finish off the try. Suddenly, the Arrows found themselves down 10-0 before they even really had the ball in their hands.
The Arrows first opportunity to create some offense went awry as Sam Malcolm made an uncharacteristic mistake. After a penalty, the Arrows were looking to set up a 5m lineout, but Malcolm’s kick was long and the ball sailed through the in-goal area. The Seawolves would begin to pick up the physicality and Apisai Naikatini leveled Luke Campbell forcing him to leave the game. The Seawolves would add to their lead with another Brock Staller penalty and a try from Jeff Hassler to go up 20-0 at the half hour mark. Naikatini would soon land another highlight reel hit on Malcolm. Arrows fans held their breath as Malcolm stayed down for a while. However, as Dan Moor has repeatedly said, Malcolm has the heart of a lion so he stayed in the game. The Seattle defense would continue with the heavy hitting and Samu Manoa would catch Malcolm with another massive hit. Again, Malcolm had the lion’s heart on full display as he kept battling though. Malcolm would soon send a perfect pass to Mieres who would dart through the Seawolves defense to pick up a try on the final play of the half. Malcolm would convert and the Arrows headed into the break down 23-7.
The second half started off well for the Arrows. Cima made a mistake right away as he sent the opening kickoff into touch. The Arrows began to put some pressure on Seattle and the game began to be played in the Seawolves end a little more. With ball in hand, Leandro Leivas absolutely trucked over Cima and momentum began to shift in the Arrows favour. Eventually, Mike Sheppard would intercept a JP Smith pass and run it all the way for the Arrows 2nd try of the match. Dan Moor had a great hit on Mat Turner and with the captain leading by example, the Arrows began to pick up the physicality. The Arrows were able to dominate the Seawolves for a terrific driving maul that sent the Seawolves back a good 25m. A Malcolm penalty would bring the Arrows to within 6 points. Six minutes later, the Seawolves would be on the attack again. Referee Scott Green would award the Seawolves a penalty try after saying the Arrows collapsed a maul. Peter Milazzo would be sent to the sin bin and the Arrows would have to play a man down for 10 of the remaining 12 minutes of the game. Despite being a man down, the Arrows showed no signs of quit and Sheppard ran in his 2nd try of they match moments later. However, Green would call for a TMO review and it would be ruled that Steven Ng’s short lineout ball did not travel 5m before Paul Ciulini received it. The try would be called back and the score remained 30-17. The Arrows would continue to push, but when the final whistle sounded, it would be the Seattle Seawolves heading to the MLR Championship Series Final.
Through most of my post-game recaps throughout the year, I typically try to avoid talking about the referees. Rugby is not an easy sport to officiate and they have a very difficult job to do. I am also not a fan of blaming the officials for a loss. I believe that even if a call goes against your team, there is always a way to battle through it or adjustments that can be made. Which is why I think it is unfortunate that in my recap for the biggest game of the season, I feel like I need to address Scott Green’s officiating in this match. His calls seemed to heavily favour the offensive team, making it difficult for defenses to operate. It was a challenge to steal balls in rucks, making turnovers reliant on knock-ons or other errors. He seemed to lack consistency at times as well. Vili Toluta’u actually managed to steal the ball in a ruck on a play similar to ones that both the Arrows and Seawolves were penalized for earlier in the match. Andrew Quattrin was penalized for moving forward after he was tackled and not held. George Barton was able to play on in a similar situation later.
Two big plays that Green had an immediate influence on occurred at critical times in the match. In the 66th minute, the Seawolves set up a maul. As the Arrows defend, Cole Keith is called for coming in from the side. However, Keith clearly swims his way directly through the middle of the maul. Keith goes right in between Toluta’u and Riekert Hattingh to get to the back of the maul. Green’s call allows the Seawolves to set up another maul. This time the maul collapses and Green awards a penalty try when Seattle was unable to play the ball. A penalty try should be awarded in the event that a try clearly would have been scored and that is questionable in this case. However, there is no chance a try would have been scored if Green did not penalize Keith for successfully playing defense. The penalty try also led to a yellow card for Milazzo (which is fair; if you call the penalty try, you need to hand out a yellow). However, despite being down a man, the Arrows put some pressure on and appear to get that try back immediately. However, Green would signal for a TMO review (which is new for the playoffs) to see if Ng’s lineout throw reached 5m before Ciulini caught it. Although it looked close, it still appears the ball traveled the required 5m, however, TMO concluded that the try would be overturned. Ultimately, at the most crucial juncture of the game, referee decisions awarded a try to one team and took away a try from another. It’s unfortunate, but it is difficult to look at this game and not discuss the impact the officials had.
However, with that being said, the Seawolves were the better team in the match and deserved to win this game. Seattle came out of the gate guns blazing as they jumped out to the early 10-0 lead that would eventually grow to a 23-0 lead. The Arrows struggled to gain possession of the ball and when they did get it, they struggled to put phases together. With the ball in hand, the Arrows had plenty of knock-ons and other execution errors. The line speed of the Seawolves made it difficult for the Arrows’ offence to operate. Naikatini and Manoa made Malcolm’s life miserable all game. They registered the 2 big hits, but whenever Malcolm touched the ball there seemed to be a green and blue jersey in his face. Malcolm’s ability to keep shaking off all of those hits is to be applauded. Malcolm was clearly feeling the effects of the Naikatini hit but he stayed in the game. He absorbed another big hit from Manoa and constant others as well. Yet, he stuck with it. Malcolm set up Mieres for his try and was 3/3 with the boot. It is often said that Malcolm has the heart of a lion and he proved that on the pitch. Meanwhile, Ben Cima was having a stellar game. Cima was able to help the Seawolves control most of the territory and possession with his kicking game. He started the first Seawolves try with a chip kick and sent a great pass to Hassler for their 2nd try. The Seawolves were able to get to Malcolm to interrupt the Arrows attack. However, the Arrows were never able to get to Cima and his kicking game proved to be vital in the Seawolves’ victory. Ultimately, the Arrows were never able to overcome Seattle’s ferocious defense and their slow start. Once, Seattle got that lead the defense was able to take over. Any time the Arrows got the ball carrier would be met with a ferocious hit. As the game wore on, the clock became the Arrows’ worst enemy as time kept slipping away. The Seawall lived up to its billing today and as a result, the Arrows season has come to an end.
The loss brings the Toronto Arrows inaugural season to a close. The Arrows made the playoffs in their first season and everyone in the organization can be proud of their results. Most importantly, the Arrows have provided Canadian rugby players a chance to work and train in a professional environment at home for the first time. They have also become something that young Canadian rugby players can strive towards. There are plenty of exciting times ahead for the Arrows and I am already counting down the days until the 2020 season.