After picking up their first win in franchise history last week, the Toronto Arrows (1-1-0) look to keep the momentum going as they head to the west coast to take on the defending champion Seattle Seawolves (1-2-0). Seattle’s Starfire Stadium is sold out and the Arrows will get their first taste of the most hostile crowd in MLR.
Seattle only lost two games all season en route to being crowned MLR Champions. Now they have lost 2 in a row for the first time their history after falling to the San Diego Legion and the NOLA Gold. Seattle is known for its tough, physical defense that has earned them the nickname “the Seawall”. In their loss to San Diego, incredibly wet weather conditions, a poor kicking game (in Ben Cima’s absence) and a scrum that was dominated all game led to the loss. Against NOLA, the Seawall were obliterated as JP Eloff and Tristan Blewett led the charge as NOLA put up 41 points. Last week was the first time the Seawall had given up more than 35 points in a game. It will be interesting to see how they respond against Toronto.
It was nearly all positives for the Toronto Arrows last week. With 9 players away at the ARC, Toronto’s depth was severely tested and they passed with flying colours. Avery Oitomen and Kolby Francis each picked up tries in their first MLR starts and Morgan Mitchell turned in a Man of the Match performance. Mitchell led the way as the scrum was completely dominant and ultimately the deciding factor in the game. Austin simply had no answer for it. The one negative thing from last weeks game is that Toronto was taking far too many penalties. That won’t be able to continue this week as Brock Staller will put 3 points on the board from pretty much anywhere in Toronto’s half. It is a bye week at the ARC so the Arrows see a few of their international players return to the lineup. It will be a big test, as they get to measure themselves against the defending champions for the first time.
With the Americas Rugby Championship on a rest week, the Toronto Arrows get a few of their internationals back. Mike Sheppard will be at lock and Guiseppe du Toit will make his MLR debut at inside-centre. Cole Keith also returns from ARC but he will wear the number 18 jersey and come off the bench. With du Toit entering the lineup the MLR’s leading try scorer Dan Moor will shift back to the wing. However, unlike the first game of the season Moor will be at 11 allowing Avery Oitomen to stay at 14. The 19-year-old Oitomen has impressed in his first two professional games. Oitomen has a try in each of those games as he has demonstrated an exceptional ability to find a way across the try line. Despite the return of Keith, Morgan Mitchell’s Man of the Match performance against Austin earned him his second start in a row at tighthead prop. However, there is one change in the front row. Tom Dolezel replaces Rob Brouwer at loosehead prop. Brouwer was handed a yellow card for a neck roll last week against Austin. He will be completely out of the line up this week and Doug Woolridge could make his MLR debut off the bench.
It is worth noting that Los Teros members Leandro Levias and Gaston Mieres, as well as Saracens back row Jack Nay, have all been spotted in Toronto this week. Levias and Meiers may be returning to the Uruguayan national team for when the ARC resumes next week. However, it will be interesting to see if Nay will feature in the lineup soon, especially if Lucas Rumball continues to be with Canada at the ARC.
Phil Mack finds himself in the number 9 jersey once again after coming off the bench in last weeks defeat to the NOLA Gold. Mack played all but 7 minutes of the entire 2018 season so it is very rare to see the league’s best scrumhalf come off the bench. Mack returns to his rightful place this week. With the Seawolves suffering 2 straight defeats for the first time in history, the starting lineup sees plenty of changes. Brad Tucker replaces Taylor Krumrei at lock (with Apisai Naikatini shifting from the 5 to 4 jersey). Cam Polson takes Brad Tucker’s original spot in the back row. George Barton starts at inside-centre and Shalom Suniula will be coming off the bench. Seattle will be looking to right the ship on Sunday and avoid dropping 3 in a row for the first time.
3 Things to Watch
If you are a Canadian rugby fan, this is a can’t miss game. In 2018 the Seattle Seawolves had the most Canadians in MLR. That has dramatically changed this year as the Toronto Arrows entered the league and boast a predominantly Canadian roster. Ultimately, this will be the most Canadian players you will see on the pitch in an MLR game. Sam Malcolm and Morgan Mitchell are the only non-Canadians in the Arrows line up this week. Seattle has 5 meaning this game will feature 26 Canadians. The Canadians on Seattle are important ones. Phil Mack is the legendary scrum-half and assistant coach in Seattle. Mack will be involved in every play while Seattle has possession of the ball. As Canada’s scrum-half, no other opponent in the league will know the Arrows players as well as Mack as he has played with a number of them. Brock Staller will start on the wing for Seattle. Staller had the highlight reel try that gave Seattle the win over Glendale in their season opener. Staller will also handle the kicking duties. After being left of the initial ARC team, Staller will be looking to prove that he should be brought on board. He will want to have a big game against the Arrows and their 7 members of the ARC team. George Barton, 2 caps for Canada, will start at inside-centre on Sunday. Cam Polson will be starting at flanker against the Arrows. Polson is typically a lock so he will be playing a little out of position. Nakai Penny rounds out the Seawolves Canadian contingent. The former UBC Thunderbird will come off the bench in the number 20 jersey.
The Toronto Arrows scrum was absolutely dominant in their win over Austin Elite last week. Toronto completely steamrolled the Austin pack by either just flat out winning scrums or forcing Austin to take a penalty. Ultimately, Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, and Morgan Mitchell were far too much for Austin’s front row to handle. Brouwer won’t be in the lineup for this one and Tom Dolezel will start at loosehead. Dolezel has been capped 16 times for Canada and will be a strong replacement for Brouwer. It will be interesting to see if Toronto’s scrum can maintain that dominance against Seattle. Part of the Seawall was owning the best scrum in 2018. However, it isn’t 2018 anymore. Seattle has struggled in the scrum this year. San Diego tighthead Paddy Ryan completely demolished Olive Kilfi, who gave up penalty after penalty for not staying square. Mitchell is coming off a dominant performance and will give Kilfi all he can handle on Sunday night. If Kilfi’s struggles continue, it could be another long night for the Seattle scrum.
The packs won’t just be going head to head in the scrums. Their matchup in the lineouts and at the breakdowns will be crucial too. Seattle and Toronto both struggled at the lineout in their respective games last week. For Seattle, Stephan Coetzee, the former Southern Kings hooker, struggled to find his mark with his throws and NOLA was able to come away with a few steals. NOLA also earned a penalty try following a driving maul off a lineout. After being pushed quite a distance, Seattle collapsed the maul on the tryline and gave up the penalty try. Toronto’s problems stemmed from Austin’s lock Ben Mitchell having a really good day. Mitchell was able to constantly disrupt the Arrows’ lineout and the Arrows would either lose possession or have to register themselves after an unclean lineout. However, last week Toronto was without Mike Sheppard. Sheppard’s presence will instantly improve the Arrows lineouts. Both teams will need to make corrections from last week and we will see who comes out on top.
Finally, the packs will meet often in the breakdowns. They aren’t called the Seawall for nothing. Seattle’s defensive line does not give up much. Toronto is going to have to be patient and wait for the precise moment to breakthrough. Toronto’s forwards will be vital in ensuring that they maintain possession of the ball as they attempt to breakdown the Seawall. San Diego had a solid 15 minutes on the Seattle goal line before they finally scored. You can break through, you just have to be willing to match the work ethic of the Seawall.
Mack & Cima vs Ferguson & Malcolm
The forwards will be locked into an intense and gruelling physical battle the key matchup in the game may come down to the 9s and 10s. Phil Mack and Ben Cima create one of the best scrumhalf-flyhalf combinations in the league. Mack is a legend in Canada. The 33-year-old has 55 caps for Canada to go along with a successful sevens career. He proved to be the premier scrumhalf in MLR last season and that seems to be continuing into 2019. Cima is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The 22-year-old has earned 10 caps for the Eagles and has 42 points in those games. However, Cima is still considered a prospect for the Eagles. He was left off their ARC team and will want to earn his way back into the lineup before the Rugby World Cup.
Andrew Ferguson has 11 caps for Canada and will start at scrumhalf for the Arrows. Ferguson will link up with Sam Malcolm at flyhalf. Ferguson and Malcolm have been incredibly average this year. Nothing about their game has been overly impressive, however, you cannot say they have been playing poorly either This will be an interesting matchup for them as they get to test themselves against one of the best 9-10 combinations in the league. As with any game with the Seattle Seawolves, ball management will be crucial and Ferguson’s distribution will be vital in the Arrows being able to retain possession for prolonged lengths of time. When territory is needed, Malcolm will be counted on as the first receiver to find gain that territory back with his boot.
Cima is excellent with his boot. He was absent in the match with San Diego and you could tell that Seattle really missed Cima’s kicking game. Cima is capable of giving Seattle the territory they need for the Seawall to take over the game. Malcolm will need to match Cima’s level of play to ensure the territory remains in Toronto’s favour.
Toronto Arrows vs Seattle Seawolves kicks off at 8pm on Sunday night. You can watch the game on Game TV or Facebook Watch