The Toronto Arrows will head south to take on Rugby ATL in their first meeting in history on Sunday afternoon. Rugby ATL is one of three new expansion teams that joined MLR in 2020. They have gotten off to a solid start. Rugby ATL, which fans have begun adopting the RATLsnakes nickname, got off to a 2-0-0 start after defeating the Utah Warriors and the NOLA Gold.
Last week, Mathieu Bastareaud put in easily his best performance of 2020 as RUNY handed RATL their first loss of the year. With the loss, the Arrows defeated the Seattle Seawolves to improve to 3-0-0 and became the only undefeated team remaining in the Eastern Conference. Strangely enough, the Arrows are the only team in MLR that have not actually played a game against an Eastern Conference opponent. They get their first crack at one on Sunday afternoon.
Mark Winokur and Chris Silverthorn have made a handful of strategic lineup changes for the match with Rugby ATL. Andrew Quattrin and Lucas Rumball will be coming off the bench. Hooker Steven Ng will get his first start of the season, as will flanker Peter Milazzo. Milazzo returns to the starting lineup after playing nearly every minute of every game last year. He probably would have if a rescheduled match against the Austin (then) Elite forced the Arrows to utilize some load management.
Load management appears to also be a factor in the decision to put Quattrin and Rumball on the bench. The Arrows have a quick turnaround after this match as they play the Colorado Raptors on Friday March 6th. The Arrows have a few players return from injury as well. Marcello Wainwright has been activated from the injury list but will not feature in this match. Gaston Mieres returns and will provide a big spark off the bench.
Genuinely, this could be one of the best reserve groups to have been lined in MLR. Joining Quattrin, Rumball, and Mieres are Pat Lynott, Tom Van Horne, Riley Di Nardo, Mitch Richardson, and the first all MLR prop Rob Brouwer makes his season debut.
The lineup that Rugby ATL has assembled (sorry for the bad superhero night joke) is solid. Scott Lawrence has made a handful of changes to his side that fell to RUNY last week. Canadian captain Matt Heaton returns to the lineup at openside flanker. Fellow Canadian Conor Keys has been moved to the bench in favour of Johan Momsen. Momsen will team up with Stefan Willemse and the duo should be a big challenge for Kolby Francis and Paul Ciulini. Marno Redelinghuys and Ross Deacon will join Heaton in a completely overhauled back row from last week.
The back row will be looking dangerous as the Harley Wheeler and Harley Davidson return to the wings. The Harleys provide plenty of speed down the wings, are both excellent finishers, and have really cool names. Jeremy “the Missile” Misaileglau also returns. They join the van Schalkwyk brothers, Duncan and Zander, Kurt Coleman, and Ryan Nell. A big name will also be joining Keys in coming off the bench as Eagle prop Chance Wenglewski will enter the game as a reserve.
3 Things to Watch
The Second Half
Obviously, you should watch the second half as it is the conclusion of the game after all. However, the lineup changes that the Arrows have made should make for an interesting final 40 minutes. The Arrows have eyes on the big picture by giving some stars a bit of limited minutes ahead of a quick turnaround. However, it could prove especially advantageous in this match.
Through the first 3 matches Rugby ATL has looked to be one of the better 2nd half teams in the league. Their defence has been a particular highlight, as they are the only team in MLR that has not allowed a 2nd half try. However, Rugby ATL hasn’t seen a bench quite like what the Arrows will be able to throw at them. Four internationally capped players in Quattrin, Brouwer, Rumball, and Mieres will be coming off the bench. Those four coming off the bench fresh late in a game will be quite formidable and put the Rugby ATL defense to the test.
Speaking of defense, if you like defense this is the game for you! The MLR’s number 1 ranked defense Toronto Arrows battle the MLR’s number 2 ranked defense Rugby ATL. As, Rugby ATL is yet to allow a try in the 2nd half, the Arrows have allowed the least 1st half tries in MLR (2). Both clubs boast a league leading 89% tackle completion rate (Austin also has 89%). RATL has conceded the east tries (5) and Toronto is right behind them (6).
If you look at the individual categories, Toronto’s Tomas de la Vega and Lucas Rumball find themselves in the top 3 of tackles made with RATL’s Johan Momsen also in the top 10. RATL centre Ryan Nell leads all backs with 36 tackles. He will go head to head with Arrows’ Guiseppe du Toit who ranks 2nd with 34. Momsen also finds himself ranked 2nd in dominant tackles, trailing only teammate Stefan Willemse. Conran Gleason and Matt Heaton also find themselves in the top 10 with Cole Keith being the highest-ranking Arrow in a tie for 13th.
RATL and Arrows players find themselves all over the top of the breakdown steals leaderboard. Chance Wenglewski and Alex Maughan are both in the top 5 alongside Rumball. Dan Moor ranks the highest among backs. The Arrows have the edge in the most important defensive category, points against. The Arrows 49 points against is the lowest in MLR while Rugby ATL ranks 2nd with 51. Ultimately, this should be quite the matchup between two defensive titans.
Ultimately, no matter how good your defense is, in order to win a rugby game, you need to score at some point. The Arrows enter this game with the 2nd ranked offense in the league while Rugby ATL comes in at 7th. The Arrows have scored an Eastern Conference leading 104 points so far this year. A big factor in the
Arrow’s offense this year has been captain Dan Moor. Moor currently leads the MLR with 4 tries. Although Moor is not the only player on a try-per-game pace, he is the only player that has genuinely done it.
Moor has dotted down against Austin, Houston, and twice against Seattle. The rest of the league is getting used to seeing his trademark firing an arrow celebration. Moor will be challenged with trying to find a way to crack the stingy RATL defence. Moor is a premier winger in MLR. He is everything you want out of a winger. Great hands, blazing speed, a nose for the tryline, solid defense, and a willingness to look for work on the inside of the pitch.
Moor isn’t the only dangerous threat in the outside backs. Sam Malcolm is coming off an unbelievable 9/9, player of the week performance against Seattle. Malcolm is also a brilliant fullback who has a nose for starting big counter attacks. This is where the Arrows may be able to crack that tough RATL defense.
When RATL is struggling to gain metres, flyhalf Kurt Coleman has a tendency to kick the ball. Depending on where they are on the pitch, this could be looking for territory or hoping for a winger to run onto it. Ultimately, this could feed into the Arrows’ counter attack.
If Coleman puts the ball in the air, he could be feeding into a strength of the Arrows attack. He will also be putting the ball in the hands of either Moor, Malcolm, Adams, or Leivas (or Mieres later on), all of which have the ability to become the most dangerous players on the pitch at any given time.
The Toronto Arrows will take on Rugby ATL on Sunday March 1st at 3pm. You can catch the match live on tsn.ca. For all your Arrows and MLR news, be sure to follow @BressetteTheJet and @LaymansSports on your favourite social media network.