Let’s try this again! The Toronto Arrows (7-5-0) will take on Austin Elite Rugby (0-12-0) in a game that was originally supposed to be played on April 14th. Austin’s plane could not take off due to the weather and the game was rescheduled to Thursday, May 9th at 7pm at York University Alumni Stadium. The Toronto Arrows are on absolute fire heading into this game. They have extended their own winning streak to 3 games while simultaneously ending the San Diego Legion’s 6 game winning streak. San Diego’s last 2 losses are now both against Toronto. This week will present some challenges to the Arrows. Due to the game being rescheduled, the Arrows now have to play their 2nd of 3 games in a 7-day stretch. The Arrows depth will be tested as they continue to hunt down that final playoff spot. The good news for the Arrows is since they have to play an extra game this week, they could very well be in a playoff spot by the end of week 16.
The Arrows are currently 4 points back of Rugby United New York and the Glendale Raptors (who are tied at 42 points) for the final playoff spot. With 10 points available to the Arrows, this could be their week to climb into the top 4. Austin Elite Rugby has struggled mightily all season long. They’ve been bad. It is difficult to argue otherwise when the record is 0-12-0. Although they have played some decent rugby at times this year (they nearly handed NOLA a loss), Austin has yet to pick up their first win 75% of the way through the season. There have been constant changes to the lineup each week. This accompanied with some players like Timothee Guillimen and Simon Courcoul leaving to join the New England Free Jacks and it has been difficult for Austin to get anything going this year. This is a game between 2 teams heading in the opposite direction. The Arrows are in a playoff hunt and playing their best rugby all year. They are coming off of wins against the defending champions and one of the top teams in the league this year. Austin is just trying to salvage some pride as their woeful season winds down.
With 3 games in 7 days and the MLR’s worst team up, Chris Silverthorn has made a number of changes to the Arrows lineup. One of the most notable changes is Peter Milazzo’s absence from the starting XV. Obviously, the Arrows are trying to conserve some players during this 7-day stretch. Unfortunately, this means that Milazzo’s IronMan streak will come to an end. Milazzo is the only Arrow to have played all 960 minutes of the season so far and has been an absolute beast in doing so. He will still factor into this game but is among the reserves. Milazzo will be joined by traditional starters Morgan Mitchell, Mike Sheppard, and Spencer Jones in the reserves. Again, the Arrows are resting some players so Sam Malcolm won’t factor into this game at all. In his place will be Patrick Parfrey who is coming off a great game against the San Diego Legion. Andrew Quattrin is out as the hooker, meaning Steven Ng will start fresh off his game-winning try against the Legion. Ng will be backed up by Jack McRogers. Josh Van Horne starts in Sheppard’s usual spot and the back row will consist of Marcello Wainwright, John Moonlight, and newly signed Luke Campbell. Campbell was signed earlier in the week and adds some more depth to the Arrows back row that has Jack Nay and Lucas Rumball out with injuries. In the backs, Mitch Richardson will make his first MLR start at centre. Dan Moor also shifts to centre allowing Leandro Leivas and Kainoa Lloyd to be on the wing. Andrew Ferguson stats at scrumhalf and Shawn Windsor will be at fullback to round out the lineup.
The revolving door that is the Austin Elite starting xv continues this week. There have been 7 changes to the starting xv from last week’s clash with the NOLA Gold. Mason Pedersen, Ronan McCusker, Kyle Breytenbach, Moe Abdelmonem, Shoheyl Jaoudat, Aiden McMullan, and Simon Bienvenu are amongst the starters this week. There are a handful of Canadians on the Elite to keep an eye on. In the backs, Aidan McMullan will start at wing. In the pack, Moe Abdelmonem, as well as Josh and Travis Larsen have developed into 3 of the Elite’s key players. In order for Austin to have a chance in this game, Travis and Abdelmonem will have to be major factors. The Arrows have dominated possession and territory in the last 2 games. It could be a very long day for the Elite if their back row can’t find a way to steal some balls.
3 Things to Watch
The Playoff Race Continues
This week has massive implications on the playoff race and the standings could look very shaken up come Monday morning. The Seattle Seawolves and Rugby United New York are squaring off and the San Diego Legion take on the NOLA Gold in their first of two meetings this year. Ultimately, this gives the Arrows a window to climb into the top 4. An Arrows bonus point win against Austin will leapfrog Toronto from 6th overall (38 points) to 3rd overall (43 points) before week 16 officially starts. Simply, beating Austin will put them in a 3-way tie with Rugby United New York and Glendale Raptors at 42 points. The tiebreakers will have the Arrows in 4th place though. By beating Austin, the Arrows can set themselves up very nicely going into a week where the teams ahead of them are going to be handing each other losses. However, the Arrows are still in a situation where every game is a must win. They must take advantage of this game and absolutely cannot afford to lose, especially to a bottom 3 team.
Additionally, in the tight MLR playoff race, just 4 points separate 3rd from 6th. Therefore, if there is a tie in the standings, the tiebreakers will come into effect. The first tiebreaker is most wins. After that, it is the highest aggregate point differential followed by most tries. As of right now, the Arrows have a +62 points differential. That is better than Seattle (+57) and Glendale (+53). RUNY has a +78 differential and both NOLA and San Diego are way ahead of the rest of the field. Knowing that the tiebreakers are points and tries based, the Arrows must keep their foot on the gas and try to create some separation between themselves and the other teams in the playoff hunt. Obviously, the win is priority number 1. Second priority is the bonus point. The third priority should be to regain sole possession of the record for most points in a game. The Arrows offense has been fantastic during their winning streak. They picked up bonus point wins against Houston and Seattle and they controlled the play against San Diego. San Diego’s strong defense was forced to take a lot of penalties in the game to slow down the Arrows (most notably an intentional knock-on and cynical play yellow cards). Austin’s defence has some redeeming qualities. Abdelmonem is solid at the breakdown and always seems to find a way to come away with the ball. However, after being faced with a few phases, they often lose their shape and are prone to giving up big line breaks. Those line breaks often lead to tries. The Arrows offense got a bonus point against the Seawall and forced the best defensive team in the league into penalty trouble. Despite all of the changes to the lineup, the Arrows still posses plenty of firepower. Lloyd hasn’t had a ton of playing time this year, but he is still one of the fastest players in MLR. Lloyd’s speed could be problematic for Austin. The offense was great against 2 solid defenses. This week, it’s Austin. Go break a record and improve your playoff chances.
There are plenty of new faces in the lineup tonight. As a result, it is always fun to keep an eye on them. Luke Campbell is a number 8 specialist who adds plenty of depth to the Arrows back row. Campbell has 9 caps for Canada (most recently at the ARC). Mitch Richardson has featured for the Ontario Arrows in their exhibition season prior to joining MLR. Richardson is a former McMaster Marauder where he received OUA All-Star honours in 3 seasons. Richardson will be alongside captain Dan Moor in the centres. Additionally, we will get to see some players who typically aren’t featured in the starting lineup. Kainoa Lloyd is an incredibly dynamic player who has blazing speed. Unfortunately, he has not seen much playing time largely due to the insane depth the Arrows have at the winger position. This could be a great game to showcase his abilities and earn some more playing time in the future.
The Toronto Arrows vs Austin Elite Rugby kicks off at 7pm at York Alumni Stadium. If you can’t make it out, you can watch the game on Facebook Live.