Source: Derek Bressette
The Toronto Arrows made a trip down the QEW to compete in a controlled scrimmage with Rugby United New York on Saturday afternoon. The scrimmage took place at the ADPRO Sports Training Centre, also known as the Buffalo Bills practice facility.
The format of the scrimmage was set piece work of scrums, lineouts, and backs with the clubs rotating offense and defense. The set piece sessions were then followed by a series of 12-minute mini-games that once again saw the clubs rotating offense and defense. For the mini-games, they used the sidelines as the tryline and the goal line with the opposite 30-yard line as the touch lines.
The day allowed both coaching staffs an opportunity to evaluate every player in the squad in multiple game situations. Here are five takeaways from the scrimmage.
1. Set Piece
The controlled scrimmage began with plenty of set piece work. The Arrows’ powerful scrum was on display once again. The main highlight for them would have been winning the ball against the feed successive scums. RUNY was able to win some penalties, however it was clear the Arrows had the better scrum.
The Arrows did use the session to work on some experimentation as well. Mike Sheppard spent some time as Eightman, Brouwer hopped in a tighthead for a moment, and Asiata went back and forth between loosehead and tighthead. The controlled scrimmage environment allowed both squads to try various combinations of personnel in the scrums.
After the scrum the two sides moved onto the lineout. Tomas de la Vega is looking like a massive addition to the squad. De la Vega’s presence has made an immediate impact and the lineout looks like it has improved since last year. De la Vega will be in charge of calling the plays in the lineout, something he has also done for the Pumas. The Arrows also look to have him as their primary target in the lineout.
Fellow new signee Manuel Diana was also frequently used as a jumper, as was Peter Milazzo who was near the top of the league in lineout steals last year. RUNY was also showing signs of a strong lineout. They came away with a handful of steals on Arrows’ throws.
Additionally, the one thing RUNY may have done better than anyone in MLR last year was the driving maul from a close-range lineout. Dylan Fawsitt racked up 12 tries last year (tied for 2nd in MLR) largely as a result of the maul.
The Arrows conceded a penalty try in one of the mini-games as a result of collapsing a RUNY maul. Fawsitt will likely score a number of tries again this season largely because that maul is so good.
2. Both Club’s Defense
Many Arrow’s players were disappointed with some of their skills and execution. There were inaccurate passes and plenty of balls hitting the deck. RUNY’s defense was a big step up from what they faced against Utah and Colorado. RUNY’s line speed was impressive and disrupted the Arrows attack throughout the session.
The Arrows will not be happy with some of the mental and execution errors that occurred. However, the flip side of that is the Arrows defense looked great also. At times, RUNY struggled to break the gainline and ended up kicking the ball away (despite the incredibly short pitch). That created some opportunities for counter attacks. The Arrows were also able to generate a lot of turnover ball with de la Vega, Paul Ciulini, and Lucas Rumball being major catalysts.
Overall, although the offenses seemed to struggle at times, part of that is both teams looked solid defensively.
3. LeSage and Richardson
“Honestly, the centre depth is one of the reasons I was attracted to this team.” Well if Be LeSage was looking for centre depth he certainly found it. Guiseppe du Toit and Spencer Jones were the go-to centre combination. However, the arrival of LeSage and the rapid development of Mitch Richardson has left Chris Silverthorn with plenty of decisions to make regarding the 12 and 13 jerseys.
LeSage did well throughout the day and even got the better of Mathieu Bastareaud on a few occasions. LeSage capped off the session by running a great line around the outside edge where a behind-the-back pass from Dan Moor awaited him. LeSage ran down the touch line for the try.
When asked about the centre depth, Silverthorn highlighted Richardson’s game. “All 4 centres have played really well. Mitch, a young guy, but today he stepped four guys and had three linebreaks. So, it’s a tough call. Our centres have been fantastic,” said Silverthorn following the controlled scrimmage.
Richardson did get a few games in for the Arrows last year, but his transformation this offseason has been incredible. One thing is for certain, eventually Silverthorn will have to pick who wears the 12 and 13 jersey. I am convinced he has no bad option.
4. Bastareaud Looks Human
Major League Rugby saw an influx of elite talent from around the globe signed during the off-season. One of those signings was Mathieu Bastareaud. For many fans in attendance (and the Arrows themselves) it was their first chance to get a look at the legendary French centre. It was interesting to see that Bastareaud did not stand out a whole lot. He did have some trademark moments. Following a RUNY scrum, Bastareaud flattened Will Kelly, knocking him backwards into a near summersault.
However, de la Vega was able to sweep over and help Kelly. de la Vega brought him down and jackalled the ball away allowing the Arrows to counter attack.
Bastareaud is a powerful runner and the Arrows were mindful of that. Even if they needed to commit an extra player to the tackle, the defensive line would hold its shape, limiting any holes he may have created for his teammates.
The Arrows (LeSage in particular) also never shied away from attacking Bastareaud’s channel. LeSage ran a direct line at Bastareaud and managed to push him back a metre or two before being brought down. The Arrows followed that up with some nice phase work and de la Vega scored a try.
Ultimately, I felt that Bastareaud had an off day. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a force during the Major League Rugby season. However, I also feel that many Arrows players learned that they can hang with him. Any intimidation factor or aura surrounding who Bastareaud is may have been lost with the Arrows this weekend.
5. Other Notes
Sam Malcolm has been nursing a minor back injury. The injury has resulted in him being kept out of the preseason game against Utah as well as the controlled scrimmage against RUNY. He remains optimistic that he will be available for the season opener against Austin.
Tyler Rowland has been returned to Pacific Pride. He will have the option to rejoin the Arrows if injuries or suspensions begin to add up. It appears that Pride will be able to give Rowland more playing time. With Rowland’s departure, Richie Asiata will primarily shift over to tighthead.
The Arrows have also signed Queen’s Gaels' scrumhalf Dylan Young. Young has been training with the throughout camp and featured during the controlled scrimmage with RUNY. Young joins the Arrows’ solid core of Canadian 9s that also includes Andrew Ferguson, Jamie Mackenzie, and Riley DiNardo.
The Arrows pre-season schedule against MLR opponents has now wrapped up. The next time the Arrows will be in action is the season opener on February 9th vs the Austin Herd. You can follow @BressetteTheJet and @LaymansSports on your favourite social media network for all your Arrows news heading into the 2020 MLR season.