Source: Jeff Chan via @TorontoArrows
What a finish! The Toronto Arrows left Las Vegas with a 27-22 victory over the Houston SaberCats. The match came down to a climactic ending. A yellow card to Tomas de la Vega and a red card to Mike Sheppard left the Arrows with just 13 men at the end of the game and Houston had a lineout on the Arrows 22. Diego Fortuny hit Kyle Breytenbach with the ball and the SaberCats began their drive.
Houston brought 14 men into the maul while many Arrows backs stayed put to defend against the ball coming out and passed wide. Houston pushed their way over the try line but it was Lucas Rumball who emerged with the ball in hand ending the match.
The Arrows got off to a roaring start in this match. Breytenbach was pinged for being offside which allowed Sam Malcolm to put over the first 3 of his 9 points in the match. The set piece looked in fine form early as well. Guiseppe du Toit scored his first try of the 2020 season after running a beautiful line on an Arrows dummy maul in the lineout. “We have those plays to pick on team’s weaknesses” said du Toit of play selection on his try. “If everybody nails their role, 9 times out of 10 we will come away with a happy result”.
The Arrows continued to get those happy results from the set piece early on. Tomas de la Vega had a lineout steal and the Arrows worked the ball to Malcolm who found Jonny Sheridan for a big line break. The linebreak was one of Sheridan’s 7 carries for a team leading 107m in a great 2020 debut for him. Eventually, Tayler Adams would draw in Val Lee-lo and Timothy Cadwallader allowing him to offload to an open Manuel Diana for his 2nd try in as many games.
Adams put in a MOTM performance that included 80 minutes split between flyhalf and fullback, a key penalty goal, 273m in kicks, and setting up 2 tries.
The first was Diana’s the second was Dan Moor’s. Matias Freyre sent a high ball that was well taken by Adams with space to start a counter attack. I will let Dan Moor take it from here; “I noticed on a couple of their kicks before, their contain guy was running into about the 15. So, when I saw Tay with some space, I was screaming at him that we had space on that short side wing. Then Ben made a fantastic play with a bit of skill to get the ball to me and I just did my role on that play”.
Moor’s role of course is to finish the try and cap it off with a trademark arrow celebration.
The Arrows first half was nearly perfect. The only real blemish was Sam Windsor putting through a cheeky gruber kick that Jamie Mackenzie and Malcolm had trouble gathering. De Wet Roos would beat them to the ball and finish off the try. Match commentator Dallen Stanford even declared “there is no way he should have scored that” on the broadcast. It was the one blemish on an otherwise strong opening half.
The Arrows went into halftime leading 24-5, but things began to go the SaberCats way after the break.
“We were delighted with how we started in the first 20 minutes, then we let our foot off the gas in the second 20. We were just slow to get into it in the second half. We just made it really interesting”, said du Toit in his summary of the match. Lucas Rumball would add that “we could have made it a lot easier on ourselves”. Diego Fortuny entered the match in the 45th minute and mad an immediate impact as he scored a try off a driving maul within seconds of stepping on the pitch.
Houston began to control more of the territory and possession as they were slowly able to climb back into the game. Ultimately, the SaberCats would end with 59% possession and 63% of the territory. A LeSage deliberate knock-on penalty allowed Windsor to add 3 points to the SaberCats tally, but Adams would get it back 10 minutes later.
Discipline would become an issue for the Arrows in the 2nd half. The Arrows conceded 13 of their 17 penalties in the second half, and the penalties started to add up.
With the score 27-15 de la Vega was handed a yellow car for repeated infringements. Two minutes later, the SaberCats were awarded a scrum 5m from Toronto’s line. Moor packed down as the blindside flanker in de la Vega’s absence. Andrew Ferguson was poorly positioned after the put in. That allowed Roos to sneak by Moor’s side for the try to bring Houston within 5.
Mike Sheppard would be dealt a straight red for a high tackle that set up a dramatic finish. With the Arrows down to 13 men, the SaberCats would attempt a driving maul from 22m out (Perhaps the SaberCats were confident due to scoring in a similar fashion earlier in the match). The SaberCats put on a solid shove, then brought everyone except Malacchi Esdale into a monstrous 14-man maul.
However, the Arrows left du Toit, LeSage, Moor, and Adams to defend against the ball coming out. “If we put all our backs in there, it would be easy to just spin it once or twice and score in the corner”, said Moor of not allowing the backs to get drawn into the maul. By not committing the backs, the Arrows eliminated the option of spinning it wide. If Esdale got the ball he is 1 on 3 with no support. So, they were left to try to drive all the way.
The Arrows knew that a big lineout drive was coming especially given that they were down 2 men (both being forwards.
“We were down a bunch of numbers. First thought was who do we have and where can we pressure them in the air. The next thought was just put your head in and try to work your way through” said Rumball of the Arrows strategy going into the lineout. In the end, Rumball and Milazzo worked their way through and were able to get their hands on the ball.
Ultimately, when the dust settled, Rumball had the ball in his hands. For Rumball, being able to work his way though a maul is “something I pride myself to be half-decent on”. It’s a very humble statement that does no justice to how good Rumball really is at doing that.
The Arrows got another solid performance from their scrum. For the second week in a row, the Arrows won 100% of their own put ins to remain perfect through the first two weeks of the season.
The lineout saw an improvement over last week with an 88% success rate. A big factor of that was Tomas de la Vega. De la Vega had an outstanding game. In the lineout he had 6 takes and one steal. That steal ultimately led to Diana’s try. De la Vega also finished with a game leading 21 tackles. Rumball and du Toit were the next highest in the match with 18 and 17 respectively.
Cole Keith had another solid game to start his 2020. Keith is showing every intention of holding onto that number 3 jersey. He is a big part of the Arrows scrum success and demonstrated an incredible work rate around the breakdowns against Houston.
In the backs, Adams and Malcolm both had brilliant matches and looked to be leading a deadly attack from the backs. Both Adams and Malcolm are exceptional at finding holes for their teammates to go through and getting them the ball at the perfect moment.
Ultimately, the Arrows may feel that they allowed Houston to climb back into the match and that is a fair assessment of the game. However, the team showed plenty of resiliency in being able to hold onto the win despite the difficult circumstances at the end of the match.
This victory marks the first time the Arrows have won back-to-back games away from Toronto. They will look to extend the streak next week against the reeling defending champions Seattle Seawolves.
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