The Toronto Arrows (0-1-0) and Austin Elite Rugby (0-2-0) both enter week 3 of the MLR season looking for their first win of the season. Toronto was given a bye to reflect on their season-opening loss to the NOLA Gold. Toronto played a fantastic second half but was unable to overcome a slow start. Ultimately, the Arrows were able to come away with 2 bonus points as the comeback attempt fell just short.
Austin Elite Rugby finds themselves at the bottom of the table heading into week 3. Austin has had to swallow some pretty bitter defeats to start the season. In week 1, Austin did not allow the Houston SaberCats to score a try in the match. However, their discipline was their downfall and Sam Windsor made them pay for it. Austin kept giving away penalties and Windsor went 7 for 7 (including the game-winning penalty in the 80th minute) and Austin fell 21-20. In their second game against the Utah Warriors, Austin was awarded a penalty late in the game. Timothee Guillimin appeared to have made the kick, however, the refs disagreed and the kick did not count. A successful kick would have opened the door for Austin to go for a late game-winning try. Instead, they just kicked for a bonus point. Guillimin actually missed that kick though.
The Toronto Arrows are the team that was hit the hardest by the Americas Rugby Championship. In total they have 9 players split between the Canadian and Uruguayan squads. None of those players, including captain Lucas Rumball, will be available for this game. Dan Moor had 2 tries in the opening match against NOLA and he will serve as the Arrows’ captain in Rumball’s absence. Moor will also shift from the wing to the centres. Taking Moor’s spot on the wing will be Avery Oitomen. Oitomen is just 19 years old and has played for both Ontario and Canada age grade sides. Oitomen was a 2nd half sub against NOLA where he scored a try. His play was impressive and has earned him a chance to start this week. Oitomen is a testament to what is so great about having professional rugby in Canada, as players can now begin exploring professional options at a young age. Oitomen isn’t the only player that earned a starting spot after week 1. Shawn Windsor starts over Jack Evans at fullback. Windsor earned a try assist with a terrific wide pass out to Moor for his first try. Morgan Mitchell will start at tighthead prop with Cole Keith away at ARC. Kolby Francis takes Rumball’s spot at No 8. Both Mitchell and Francis were outstanding when they were subbed against NOLA and were instrumental in the Arrows comeback attempt. Additionally, Marcello Wainwright will start at flanker in the absence of John Moonlight (who is on the team on a part-time basis) and John Sheridan will make his season debut at wing with Kainoa Lloyd off at ARC. Obviously, with ARC, this is not a full strength Arrows side.
Austin Elite Rugby
Star Canadian lock Josh Larsen is still away at ARC. Despite the 0-2-0 start, Austin’s starting XV remains very similar. There are only 4 changes from the lineup that took on Utah last week. Simon Courcoul starts ahead of Chris Schade at loosehead prop. Reece Czarnecki will start on the wing with Peni Tagive absent from the squad. Soheyl Jaoudat shifts from fullback to the wing and as a result, Alex Faison-Donahoe drops to the subs. Taking Jaoudat’s spot at fullback will be Rodrigo Silva. Austin announced the signing of Silva earlier in the week. Silva has earned 52 caps for Los Teros where he has scored 13 tries. Silva will give Austin some versatility as well. Primarily a fullback, Silva is also capable of playing wing and flyhalf. Courcoul over Schade was the only change to a pack that struggled against Utah. Austin will need to be better in the set piece if they want to beat the Arrows, so hopefully, the pack can rebound from their outing against Utah. Marcelo Torrealba seems to be winning the right to wear the number 9 jersey. He gets his second start in a row with Mickael Romera coming off the bench. Once again, Austin’s offense will be led by Timothee Guillimin and Zinzan Elan-Puttick. The success of the Austin on Friday is reliant on Guillimin and Elan-Puttick have excellent games.
3 Things to watch for:
Test the Arrows Depth
The Toronto Arrows are the team that has been hit the hardest by ARC. In total, they are down 9 players, many of which will be elite talent in MLR. At full strength, this will be more than half of the Arrows starting XV. Unfortunately for the Arrows, they will have to live without them for 5 games starting with Austin. As a result, the strength of the Arrows depth will be tested. Picking up the first win of the season while missing a number of their star players will be a huge confidence boost for the squad. After Austin, the Arrows will play Seattle, Houston, Glendale, and San Diego during the ARC. If the depth players can get them through the ARC with a few wins, the return of their International players and an 8 game home stand to end the year should put the Arrows in excellent shape. The subs were outstanding in the comeback attempt against NOLA, it will be a trend that the Arrows will want to continue heading into the next 5 games.
Arrows Corrections on Defense
If there was an area of the game that Toronto needs to improve on from the NOLA game it was their defense out wide. NOLA frequently attacked the wings and were rewarded. NOLA picked up 4 of their 6 tries along the wing. Toronto had trouble shifting their defensive line and NOLA frequently ended up with numbers on the outside. Toronto’s wing will have a very different look this week. Neither of the starting wings or fullback started in the game against NOLA. Sheridan will start in the 11 jersey, Oitomen in the 14, and Windsor at 15. Moor shifts from the wing to outside centre. Sheridan will be making his season debut, while Windsor and Oitomen are coming off amazing 2nd halves that earned themselves a starting spot this week. Moor moving to the centres will could allow him to use his speed to help on the wings if needed as well. Ultimately, if the shift is done well, the Arrows should be in great shape.
Can Austin Stay Disciplined?
Discipline has been an issue for Austin in the first two games of the MLR season. Despite not allowing a try to Houston, they gave up 7 costly penalties that allowed Sam Windsor to steal the game from them. Windsor was a perfect 7/7 in that game. Austin was leading in the 79th minute and all they had to do was not take a penalty and force an error to end the game. Austin took a penalty in the ruck and Windsor won the game. Austin gave up plenty of penalties in week 2 against Utah as well. Utah only made one attempt at goal from those penalties, a late kick from Tim O’Malley stretched the Utah lead to 8 denying Austin a bonus point. Of course, discipline does not always refer to strictly penalties. Austin’s decision making was also questionable against Utah. There were plenty of opportunities when it looked like Austin should have gone for lineouts or scrums after being awarded penalties instead of kicks at goal. Apparently, on Guillimin’s 4th attempt of the game there was some miscommunication between the coaching staff and the players. With the score 14-9, the coaches wanted a scrum but the players opted for a kick at goal. To make matters worse Guillimin missed the kick and the next 2 as well (although he didn’t actually miss one of those). Players and coaches need to be on the same page for a team to be successful. If Austin wants to win on Friday night, the discipline needs to be sorted out.
Bonus Thing to Watch: Austin’s 2nd Half Push
Austin Elite Rugby has been incredibly transparent with fans. Austin wants to create an enjoyable fan experience and has been updating the fans on changes to the game day experience based on their feedback. The latest update was posted earlier this week:
The highlight is that beers will become half price after Austin’s first try of the 2nd half. Fans will certainly cheer a little louder for that first 2nd half try and perhaps Austin will push a little harder to get that try and send the fans home happy. It’s important to note that Austin has only scored two tries this year. Both of them came in the season opener against Houston.
The Toronto Arrows will take on Austin Elite Rugby on Friday, February 8th at 8pm. You can catch the game on Game TV or Facebook Live.