WAARRRRIIOORRRSSS COME OUT TO PLAAAAAYYY!!
I’m sorry, but I have waited 17 weeks to write that.
The Toronto Arrows (8-5-0) welcome the Utah Warriors (2-9-1) to Lamport stadium for the first time on Sunday. The Arrows are currently on a 4-game winning streak. Their bonus point victory against the Austin Elite leapfrogged them from 6th to 3rd overall. There is still plenty of work to be done to ensure they do not fall out of the top 4. The playoff race is still incredibly tight and the Arrows (like everyone else) can ill-afford another loss. Over the course of the winning streak the Arrows have shown that their record through the first half of the year was not the best indication of how good this team actually is. Through the last 4 games the Arrows have been solid in defense, have a high success rate in the set piece, have controlled the bulk of possession, and have controlled the territory. As Dan Moor alluded to following their win over Austin just 3 days ago, the Arrows game management has improved significantly over the course of the year. They are playing most of the game in their opponents end of the park and are in possession of the ball at key moments in the game. They are also putting themselves in situations where they can’t lose on plays late in the game as they did in their losses to Seattle, RUNY, and NOLA earlier in the year. The Arrows have grown into one of the league’s top teams and are now in a position to further solidify their place in the postseason.
The Utah Warriors have struggled this year. They currently sit 2-9-1, with their only 2 victories coming against the lowly Austin Elite. The Warriors did manage to draw the Glendale Raptors, but Utah led that game 26-5 with just 20 minutes left and relinquished a victory. The Warriors have also been on the receiving end of some pretty large losses. In their previous meeting, the Toronto Arrows set the MLR record for most points in a game as they defeated the Warriors 64-31. The Warriors are coming off a loss to Glendale last week were the Raptors equalled the mark set by the Arrows. The Warriors only managed 22 points in that game, marking the largest margin of victory in the history of MLR. They will be in tough once again as they take on a Toronto Arrows side that is hungry and in the thick of a tight playoff race.
*since the Arrows posted this lineup, Bryan Ray has reported that Patrick Parfrey will be replacing Avery Oitomen in the reserves*
The Arrows are closing out a tough stretch where they will play their 3rd game in 8 days against Utah. The Arrows only had 2 days of rest following the makeup game against Austin. As a result, there has once again been plenty of changes made to the Arrows lineup. The most significant change is at flyhalf. Sam Malcolm returns to his rightful place in the Arrows number 10 jersey. Malcolm will also receive the honour of captaining the Arrows as the run onto the pitch this weekend. Malcolm has been not only one of the best Arrows this year, but one of the best players in Major League Rugby. Following the victory over the Legion, Moor exclaimed that Malcolm has
“the heart of a lion”. That heart has earned him the honour of captaincy this week. There have been wholesale changes in the starting tight five. Pat Lynott, Andrew Quattrin, Morgan Mitchell, Mike Sheppard, and Tom Van Horne will all start. The back row will be John Moonlight, Peter Milazzo, and Luke Campbell. In the backs Jamie Mackenzie will be at scrumhalf with Malcolm at flyhalf. Guiseppe du Toit returns from injury and he we be alongside Spencer Jones in the centres. Kainoa Lloyd follows up an impressive performance against Austin with another start. John Sheridan will be on the other wing and Gaston Mieres is in a fullback. Ultimately, only Moonlight, Campbell, and Lloyd also started against Austin.
The Utah Warriors have made some big signing to bolster their roster as they try to end the year on a positive note. The Warriors added former All Black Adam Thomson and Fijian sevens Gold Medalist Vatemo Ravouvou. However, neither one of them has found their way into the lineup yet. Once again, their new big names will not see the pitch against the Arrows. The Warriors have made just two changes to their lineup following their record setting defeat to the Glendale Raptors last week. Arthur Bergo replaces John Cullen at number 8 and Jeremy Misailegalu replaces Josh Andersen on the wing. Matt Jensen is one of just 2 players in MLR to have played every minute of every game this season. Tim O’Malley sits 6th in MLR scoring with 93 total points. Gannon Moore, Lance Williams, and Fetu’u Vainikolo are the biggest try scoring threats on the team. Vainikolo is the all-time leading try scorer for the Tongan national team. Vainikolo has scored 17 tries for the Ikale Tahi in his 28 test matches. Vainikolo has also played for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and for the Irish province Connacht. If you are debating on coming out to Lamport Stadium on Sunday, the chance to watch Vainikolo live is a great reason to make the trip to Liberty Village.
3 Things to Watch
2 Days Off
The depth of the Arrows has been tested greatly throughout this week. They have just 2 days to recover from their last match against Austin. Although most of the starting XV has changed, a lot of players still put in some big shifts against Austin. Among the starting XV, Moonlight played a full 80 minutes, Campbell played 67, Lloyd played 64, Sheppard played 40, Lynott played 16, Milazzo played 13, and Jones played 13. In the reserves Ciulini played a full 80 minutes, Ng played 71, Moor played 67, Ferguson played 67, Brouwer played 64, Keith played 64, and Oitomen played 16. Ultimately, you are left with 10 of the 23-man squad who played at least a half just 3 days before kickoff against Utah. However, Dan Moor says that the squad made some tweaks in their preparation and feel ready to go on Sunday. “As a team we've prioritized getting our bodies in the position they need to be so we can perform as a team. This has meant slightly less on-feet training load and further emphasizing nutrition and good sleep. I think despite the short turnaround we feel prepared and confident for what will be a stern test from Utah.” It will be interesting to see how the Arrows coaching staff manages the game time that everyone gets. In the back row, Moonlight played a full game and Campbell played 67 minutes. Kolby Francis is in the reserves and he didn’t dress for the game against Austin. It will be interesting to see when Francis enters the game. Similarly, Sheppard played 40 minutes, but the lock on the bench is Ciulini who played all 80 minutes. The Arrows staff have some decisions to be made. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
The Arrows are now in a playoff spot, but the playoff race is far from over. Just 6 points separates the San Diego Legion in 2nd place and the Seattle Seawolves in 6th place. In a league that is this tight, it is imperative that the Arrows pick up a bonus point against a bottom 3 team. The Arrows offense is incredibly dynamic and they have many of their regular starters returning to the starting XV against Utah. In their last time playing each other, the Arrows ran in 9 tries for 64 total points. When Utah takes a penalty the Arrows will not even think about taking the points until they have secured that bonus point. Moor believes that Jamie Mackenzie and Sam Malcolm will be vital to ensuring that the Arrows can leave Lamport Stadium with a victory. “A key for us will be focusing on playing rugby in the right areas of the park, ensuring we execute good game management decisions from our 9 and 10” said Moor. Once Mackenzie and Malcolm put the team in a good position it will be up to all 15 players on the pitch to execute on their opportunities. “when we find ourselves in those areas of the park it's all about executing - whether that's a scrum, lineout or back play. We have the ability to execute well so we just need to approach our opportunities with focus and confidence” added Moor. The Arrows game management has been terrific lately, and with Mackenzie and Malcolm at 9 and 10 it should be once again. To earn that bonus point the Arrows will need a full team effort and make sure they capitalize on their opportunities.
The Back Rows
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in this game is between the back rows. The Utah Warriors starting back row is Lance Williams, Ara Elkington, and Arthur Bergo. The Arrows will counter with John Moonlight, Peter Milazzo, and Luke Campbell. Williams and Elkington find themselves in the Warriors top 4 try scorers alongside Moore and Vainikolo. A lot of the Warriors offense is built off of the work of Williams and Elkington. For the Warriors to have a chance to win this game Williams, Elkington, and Bergo will need to have big games. They will be in tough against Moonlight, Milazzo, and Campbell. Campbell looked solid in his MLR debut just 3 days ago. Moonlight possesses a phenomenal athletic ability. He always finds a way to make an impact on any game he is involved in. Peter Milazzo is probably the most underrated player in MLR. He leads the league in lineout takes and is 2nd in lineout steals. His defensive play is phenomenal, he rarely ever comes off the pitch (his IronMan streak just ended at 960 minutes), and he hits every ruck with a purpose. His teammates love him and Dan Moor referred to him as one of the “unsung heroes” of the team. A lot of the Utah Warriors success is tied to the effectiveness of their back row. If Milazzo and co. can shut them down, the Arrows will walk away with another victory.
The Toronto Arrows go for their 5th straight win against the Utah Warriors at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. You can catch the game live at Lamport Stadium. If you can’t make it out, you should cancel those clearly inferior plans and come anyway (or just tune in on Game TV or Facebook Watch).