The Toronto Arrows (3-4-0) will close out their grueling 8 game road trip to open the season when they take on the Utah Warriors (1-4-1) at Zions Bank Stadium this Saturday. The Arrows are coming off of their 2nd bye week of the season. In their last time out, they fell to Rugby United New York 24-21 on a John Quill try on the final play. It’s a game that the Arrows feel they should have won. With the bye week, the Arrows have been able to have their entire team together for training for the entire week. The returning ARC players have upped the intensity and the competition for starting jobs. The Arrows are one of the deepest teams in Major League Rugby. That depth has gotten them to 3-4-0 and just 5 points back of a playoff spot. Now they have their full squad and are poised to do some serious damage in the back half of the year. Returning home at .500 will be a big boost for the club as they enter their homestand. The Utah Warriors have struggled quite a bit this year. They have a 1-4-1 record with their only win coming against the winless Austin Elite. In 2018, the Warriors were the highest scoring team in MLR Tonata Lauti lead the league with 8 tries and the Warriors rode their potent offense to a playoff birth. This season they sit last in points for with 120 and 2nd last in tries with 15. After leading the league last season, Lauti has failed to get his name on the scoresheet this year. The Warriors are coming off of a loss to the Houston SaberCats. With the win, the SaberCats were able to pull ahead of the Warriors in the standings. Houston was able to pull off the victory despite Josua Vici and Osea Kolinisau being suspended for the match. Utah now sits in 8th place, 14 points back of a playoff spot. Their only win is against the last place team. If they want to turn their season around, it must start this weekend.
Well, here it is. The Toronto Arrows full strength roster as picked by Mark Winokur and Chris Sliverthorn. When I spoke to Winokur on Wednesday, he said that my full-strength team was around 90% accurate. My lineup did not include Kainoa Lloyd and Marcello Wainwright. All of the returning ARC players that did not play against RUNY start on the bench. Theo Sauder will likely replace Gaston Mieres at fullback during the game. Jamie Mackenzie will replace Andrew Ferguson, and Kainoa Lloyd will come in for a winger. The inclusion of Sauder and Lloyd in the reserves could mean Dan Moor shifting to centre if either Guiseppe du Toit or Spencer Jones need to be replaced during the game. Steven Ng will get his first start of the season at hooker. Former McMaster hooker Jack McRogers will be in line to make his MLR debut coming off the bench as well. This could mean that Andrew Quattrin has suffered an injury. Other than Ng starting, the pack remains the same as it was against RUNY. In the backs, Avery Oitomen returns to the lineup after missing the RUNY game with an injury sustained against San Diego. Oitomen’s return shifts Mieres to fullback and Shawn Windsor out of the lineup.
The struggling Utah Warriors get a big return to the lineup for the 2nd week in a row. Fullback Don Pati made his 2019 season debut against Houston last week after recovering from an injury. Pati gave the Warriors a more dynamic look in attack and had the line break that led to Angus MacLellan’s try. This week the Warriors see the return of Brazilian flyhalf Josh Reeves. Reeves has only played one game this year due to his participation in the ARC. Lucas Rumball and the rest of the Arrows who represented Canada know just how good Reeves is. Reeves went 6/8 on penalties as he scored all 18 of Brazil’s points in their 18-10 victory over Canada at the ARC. Reeves is an exceptional kicker and he proved it against Canada on that day. Reeves inclusion does shift Tim O’Malley to inside centre. O’Malley has been Utah’s go to kicker so far this season registering 12 conversions and 7 penalties for 45 points this year. We shall see if O’Malley or Reeves gets the kicking duties against Toronto. Regardless, Reeves will also add a dynamic element to Utah’s attack and hopefully, those Canadian Arrows have learned their lesson about taking penalties with Reeves on the pitch. The other big players to watch in Utah’s lineup are Lance Williams and Gannon Moore. Moore has 3 tries in as many games after he returned to the Warriors following a stint with the Eagles during the ARC. Reeves, O’Malley, Moore, and Pati all create a lot of attacking option in a back line that also includes Tonata Lauti and Fetu’u Vainikolo, who has 28 caps for Tonga. Lance Williams is a powerful flanker who (along with Moore) leads the team in try scoring with 3 tries. Williams is part of a strong back row that has been one of the strengths of the Warriors. Williams combines with fellow back rowers John Cullen and Arawa Elkington for 7 of the Warriors 15 tries this year. Elkington will come off the bench against the Arrows with Jackson Kaka starting at blindside flanker.
3 Things to Watch
The Full strength Arrows
The Arrows depth admirably got them through the ARC and to a 3-4-0 record. However, now it is time for the Arrows to unleash the full power that this team possesses. This is the first week the Arrows can fire off a true message of intent to the rest of the league as it is easily the strongest lineup that the Arrows have fielded this season. All of the starters have been great this year and every MLR team would love to have players like Kainoa Lloyd, Marcello Wainwright, Cole Keith, Kolby Francis, Tom Dolezel, Jack McRogers, Theo Sauder, and Jamie Mackenzie on their bench. Avery Oitomen will be looking to take the league lead in tries back from John Ryberg and Tristan Blewett. Sam Malcolm continues to be one of the best flyhalves in MLR. The ridiculous depth in the back 3 is at full force for the first time with Moor, Oitomen, Mieres, Lloyd, and Sauder all in the lineup. This team is absolutely loaded. Ultimately, this is my biggest thing to watch in this match. Toronto finally gets their full roster for a game. Let’s see what they can do.
Sam Malcolm vs Josh Reeves
Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing two of the best flyhalf’s in MLR go head to head in this match. Reeves will be playing in just his 2nd game of the season while Malcolm has played a full 80 minutes in each of the Arrows 7 games. Reeves has a great ability to control the game with his kicks. This is not just goal kicking. Reeves has an insanely powerful boot and is capable of repeatedly pinning the Arrows deep in their own end. Malcolm will be instrumental in making sure the territory does not heavily favour Utah. The Arrows average 41.43% territory, which is the lowest in MLR. With Reeves on the other side of the ball, the Arrows will need to find a way to limit Reeves’ impact on the game. This will include not only Malcolm’s in-game kicking ability but the ability for Malcolm to link up with the wingers and fullbacks on counter attacks. If Malcolm can pin the Warriors deep, the forwards and backs must be able to convert their opportunities into points. Malcolm has been one of the Arrows best players all year and he will have to be again against Reeves.
The Utah Defense vs the Toronto Offense
Despite what their record shows, the Utah Warriors have a deceptively good defense. Utah has allowed the 3rd least points all season. They have also only allowed more than 30 points once so far this season. However, their previous 2 outings have been the most points allowed by the Warriors this year. RUNY defeated them 47-21 and Houston won 29-27. Prior to that only the Glendale Raptors managed to score more than 25 points and that game ended in a 26-26 draw.
As I have mentioned before, the Arrows offense will be at full force for the first time. Without their entire roster available the Arrows currently sit 5th overall in points for (176) and tries (21). The Warriors defense should be a great test to see if this lineup will be more capable of putting points on the board. It could happen in a number of ways. The scrum has been great this year and along with Lucas Rumball’s outstanding ability at the breakdown, they could generate more penalties for Sam Malcolm. Malcolm has 13 penalty goals this year only trailing Sam Windsor’s mark of 21. However, Malcolm has one of the best kicking percentages in the league (80%) and he seems to thrive in games where he has more opportunities. If the Arrows can earn him those chances, the scoreboard will tick over and Malcolm will continue to ascend the MLR ranks. However, Rumball (with Milazzo and Nay) will have to earn those penalties against the strong defensive play of Williams, Kaka, and Cullen. It should be a great test for the Arrows back row. The Arrows also have their full arsenal of finishers. Oitomen, Moor, Mieres, and Lloyd all possess an elite ability to find their way across the try line. Regardless of who is on the pitch, the Arrows will have a number of try-scoring threats on the wing. The Warriors defense has been strong all year. Can it hold up or will the Arrows be able to break through?
The Toronto Arrows close out their 8 game road trip to begin the season against the Utah Warriors on Saturday, March 30th at 4pm. You can catch the game on Game TV or Facebook Watch.