Source: José Romelo Lagman / Toronto Arrows
On Friday morning the Toronto Arrows announced that they have signed five players for the 2021 season. Tighthead prop Cole Keith, lock Paul Ciulini, and fullback/wing Gastón Mieres will all be returning to the squad. Additionally, the Arrows announced two new signings in former Pumas prop Gastón Cortés and Pacific Pride back row Siaki Vikilani.
Cole Keith was the first player to wear the number 3 jersey for the Toronto Arrows. However, after playing the season opening game in 2019, Keith would head out for international duty and represent Canada at the ARC. During the ARC, Morgan Mitchell would play some outstanding rugby and cemented his place as the Arrows starting tighthead for the remainder of the season.
In the off-season Keith would gain invaluable experience representing Canada at the Rugby World Cup and Mitchell would sign overseas, opening the door for Keith to regain the 3 jersey in 2020. Keith got of to an unbelievable start to the 2020 season. Keith was a cornerstone of a dominant Arrows pack that won 96% of their scrums (tied for 1st in MLR with the NOLA Gold).
Keith played some of the best rugby of his career during the abbreviated 2020 MLR season. He had standout performances against the Seattle Seawolves, where he had a team leading 41 ruck/maul arrivals, and against Rugby ATL, where he put in a monster 80-minute shift and drew penalty after penalty in the scrum. Ultimately, Keith was the best tighthead prop in the league this season. With the way he has been trending upwards, I don’t see why he can’t hold on to that title in 2021.
Paul Ciulini has played in all but one match for the Toronto Arrows franchise. Ciulini played 362 minutes during the abbreviated 2020 season, trailing only Tomás de la Vega, Tayler Adams, and Guiseppe du Toit. Ciulini made good use of those minutes as he racked up 66 metres carried, 42 tackles (at a 95% tackle completion rate), 1 lineout take, and 129 ruck/maul arrivals.
Ciulini’s work rate is exceptional as he frequently finds himself involved at the breakdown. After Mike Sheppard was suspended, Ciulini really stepped up his game and was a big reason for the dominance of the Arrows’ pack. Ciulini wears the 5 jersey and packs down on the tighthead side with Keith. Ultimately, the tandem caused a lot of problems for looseheads across MLR this year. Ciulini has 8 caps for Canada, but in his current form he should be adding to that number soon.
Gastón Mieres is one of the MLR’s most exciting players. A los Teros legend, the fullback/wing has demonstrated an ability to lead deadly counter attacks and he possesses a deadly finishing touch. Over his two seasons with the Arrows’ Mieres has amassed 8 tries which (due to Dan Moor’s retirement) makes him the franchise’s active leader. Mieres had 209 metres carried in 2020, which ranks him third among Arrows’ backs.
After arriving in Toronto midway through the 2019 season, Mieres played the majority of the season at fullback. In 2020, the addition of Adams enabled Sam Malcolm to move to the starting fullback position and Mieres shifted to the wing. With the way the Arrows roster is shaping up, it looks like Mieres will primarily find himself on the wing again in 2021.
The Arrows have signed Juan Cruz González, an Argentina XV flyhalf/fullback that can bring plenty of x-factor to the Arrows back three. Of course, Mieres could just as well play fullback. The Arrows are still looking to add to their back three as there is a need to replace Moor. That signing could also impact where Mieres sits on the depth chart.
On to the new additions. Gastón Cortés will add some South American flavour to the front row. The 34-year old tighthead prop will bring plenty of experience to the Arrows pack. Cortés played his Argentinian club rugby for Córdoba Athletic Club. Cortés has earned 5 caps for Los Pumas, with the last one coming against the All Blacks in 2018.
In 2012, Cortés signed with Bristol Rugby Club of the RFU Championship. Cortés would go on to play 114 matches for Bristol over the next six seasons and help Bristol win the RFU Championship in 2016 and 2018. After winning the championship in 2016, Bristol was promoted and Cortés joined the team in the Premiership.
Unfortunately, Bristol was relegated, but earned their way back up in 2018. The following year, Cortés would sign with Leicester Tigers and make 10 appearances. Most recently, the Tigers loaned Cortés to the Glasgow Warriors in February 2020. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 he had yet to play a game for the Warriors.
Cortés will be a welcome veteran presence on the Arrows. He is the fourth prop signed or re-signed to the team for the 2021 season. Cole Keith, Richie Asiata, and Tyler Rowland will all be under the age of 24 next season. If Pat Lynott returns (and it is expected that he will) as well, he will be 25. Ultimately, the Arrows have an incredibly young core of props that Cortés will be able to mentor and help further their development.
Siaki Vikilani joins the squad at the opposite end of his career from Cortés. At just 19-years old the back row has represented Canada at U19 and U20 age grade national teams. Most recently he has been plying his trade in the Pacific Pride program. Vikilani will become the fifth member of the Pacific Pride to join the Arrows following in the footsteps of Will Kelly, Guiseppe du Toit, Mitch Richardson, and Tyler Rowland.
Vikilani also became the second member of Pacific Pride to sign their first MLR contract this week after prop Nik Hildebrand signed with the Houston SaberCats. The back row was the Arrows’ deepest position in 2020, which is saying a lot considering they are the deepest team in MLR.
As of right now, the Arrows have officially retained the services of Tomás de la Vega, Marcello Wainwright, and Kolby Francis so the back row depth looks to be carrying over into 2021. As such, Vikilani may find himself in a similar position as Rowland was to start 2020, as he went between the Arrows and Pacific Pride.
Like plenty of promising young talent, it is always beneficial to get them into these professional environments. As for Vikilani’s style of play, Pacific Pride head coach Jamie Cudmore describes him as “a dynamic young 8man that will help the Arrows get consistent gainline and adds a real offloading threat.”
The signings now bring the Arrows official 2021 roster to 16 players:
Prop- Richie Asiata
Prop- Gastón Cortés
Prop- Cole Keith
Prop- Tyler Rowland
Hooker- Steven Ng
Lock- Paul Ciulini
Lock/No8- Kolby Francis
Lock- Adrian Wadden
Back Row- Tomas de la Vega
Back Row- Marcello Wainwright
Back Row- Siaki Vikilani
Flyhalf- Will Kelly
Centre- Spencer Jones
Centre- Mitch Richardson
Fullback/Flyhalf- Juan Cruz González
Fullback/Wing- Gastón Mieres
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