Source: @TorontoArrows via Twitter
In a press release on Thursday afternoon, the Toronto Arrows announced their first group of re-signed players for the 2021 Major League Rugby season. Prop Tyler Rowland, flyhalf Will Kelly, centre Mitch Richardson, flankers Marcello Wainwright and Tomas de la Vega have all re-signed for 2021. The announcement comes just one week after the Arrows announced the signing of lock Adrian Wadden, bringing the early official 2021 roster total to six.
The big name in the group is Argentinian blindside flanker Tomas de la Vega. The build-up to the 2020 MLR season saw an influx of big-name signings such as Tendai Mtawarira and Ma’a Nonu. However, Mark Winokur’s signing of de la Vega was likely the best signing of the year. Simply put, de la Vega is the best blindside flanker in the MLR. His presence was felt early as he took on a leadership role and became the club’s new play caller at the lineout.
De la Vega became the Arrows primary target in the lineout as he racked up 34 lineout takes, good for 2nd in the league behind San Diego’s Josh Furno (35). Looking at the MLR stat sheet, you will also find de la Vega’s name in the top 5 of made tackles, offloads, and carries. His 59 carries were tied for 1st overall with teammate Manuel Dianna. De la Vega also demonstrates an exceptional work rate as all flankers should. Ultimately, Arrows fans will be pleased that one of the club’s big stars has been locked up early on in the off-season.
Mitch Richardson was a player I had extremely high hopes for heading into the 2020 campaign. The centre looked terrific throughout training camp and showed some flashes of brilliance in his four appearances this year. Centre for the Arrows is a deep position with Guiseppe du Toit, Ben LeSage, Spencer Jones, and even Dan Moor as an option. An injury to Jones saw him miss the shortened 2020 season.
Despite having one of the deepest centre groups in the league, Richardson looked to be in a position to have a breakthrough year. Unfortunately, with the season cut short, we will never know. Richardson played 78 minutes over 4 appearances this season and amassed 50m carried and 6 tackles in those outings. Hopefully, we will get to see more of the Stoney Creek Camels product in the future.
Will Kelly looks to be the future of the 10 jersey in Canada. Kelly earned his first cap for Canada against Brazil in the 2019 Americas Rugby Championship. Kelly was with the team in 2019, but contractual issues with the Dragons prevented him from suiting up. In 2020 Kelly appeared in two games racking up 7 tackles and 42 metres kicked.
Starting North American flyhalves are a rarity in MLR and former U20 All Black Taylor Adams was the first choice flyhalf for the Arrows, limiting Kelly’s minutes. The Arrows have a focus on developing Canadian talent, and a flyhalf will be on the top of Canada’s list of positional needs.
Tyler Rowland is a young 20-year old tighthead prop that made three appearances in 2020. In his 23 total minutes this year, Rowland completed 5 tackles and never missed one. Rowland, alongside Richardson and Kelly, have also played for Jamie Cudmore’s Pacific Pride program, which will further enhance their development.
With the Arrows, Rowland was part of a solid group of props that also featured looseheads Richie Asiata, Pat Lynott, and Rob Brouwer and tightheads Cole Keith and Mike Smith. If a similar group is able to return next year, it should be an excellent environment for Rowland to develop his game in.
Marcello Wainwright rounds out this first group of singings. Wainwright was a key cog in the Arrows 2019 campaign. Unfortunately, his 2020 season began on the injured list. The additions of Tomas de la Vega and Manuel Diana gave the Arrows exceptional backrow depth. Diana, de la Vega, Lucas Rumball, Kolby Francis, Peter Milazzo, and Wainwright make for one incredibly deep, incredibly competitive group. As a result, Wainwright did not feature during the shortened 2020 season.
As mentioned, in 2019 Wainwright played a vital role in the Arrows' run to the postseason, especially after Rumball suffered a season-ending knee injury. In 15 games, Wainwright scored two tries, had a 91% tackle completion rate and ran for 427 metres. His performance during the 2019 season led to many of Wainwright’s teammates declaring that he is the most under-rated player in the league.
Wainwright may not have played in 2020, but I look forward to seeing him regain the form that earned him that most-underrated title in 2021.
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