The Toronto Arrows (2-2-0) will get their second chance at the first back-to-back wins in franchise history when they take on the Glendale Raptors (1-2-1) on Saturday night. The Raptors were the best team in MLR during the inaugural season, however, they fell short in the game that matters most. The 2018 runner-ups have struggled to start this year. They opened their season with losses to Seattle and NOLA (dropping 2 in a row for the first time). As with everyone else this season, they seemed to get back on track by beating Austin 24-13. Last week they were involved with the Utah Warriors in the first-ever tie in MLR. However, Utah was up 26-5 with 20 minutes left in the game. Led by 2 tries from John Ryberg, Glendale stormed back and picked up the 26-26 tie. Glendale is now unbeaten in their last two and will look to continue to steer the ship in the right direction against Toronto. The Arrows are coming off their best overall team performance of the season. They defeated Houston 44-27 while running in 5 tries from 5 different players and Sam Malcolm went 8/8 from his boot. The Arrows were able to nullify Houston’s game plan. All this while they were missing all their Canadian internationals and Morgan Mitchell. Both of these clubs are trending upward and through 4 games they are separated by 2 points in the standings. We will see who is able to continue their upward trend on Saturday night.
Morgan Mitchell suffered a rib injury in the Arrows match against the Seattle Seawolves. After missing last week's’ game with the Houston SaberCats, Mitchell returns to the lineup. He has arguably been the Arrows best player this season. His impressive ball carrying ability as well as his domination of the scrum has been massive for the Arrows this year. The Arrows also welcome the return of Mike Sheppard. Sheppard, the team’s former captain, was left off of Canada’s Americas Rugby Championship squad this weekend. He will definitely be looking to have an impactful game and earn his way back into the Canadian squad. Shawn Windsor will get the start at fullback. Windsor and Jack Evans have been spitting a lot of time in that role. With Uruguayan fullback Gaston Mieres available last week, Windsor was left off the matchday squad entirely. However, when both Mieres and Theo Sauder have been unavailable, neither Windsor or Evans have been able to separate themselves very much. Last week Chris Silverthorn gave Evans the chance to start, now Windsor gets his. Let’s see what he does with this opportunity.
The Glendale Raptors will be without 3 of their biggest stars as they are away representing the USA Eagles at the ARC. Hanco Germishuys, Will Maggie, and Shaun Davies (although the Eagles are resting him) are all unavailable this week. However, that doesn’t mean the Raptors won’t be without any firepower. Raptors winger John Ryberg is the league-leading try scorer. Ryberg has 4 tries through the Raptors first 4 games and was the driving force behind Glendale’s comeback against Utah as he scored 2 2nd half tires. On the opposite wing is Harley Davidson. Aside from having one of the MLR’s best names, Davidson poses plenty of speed and is capable of completely burying defensive lines. Davidson had 6 tries in 2018. That only trailed Utah’s Tonata Lauti’s 8 try tally for the league lead. This season Davidson has run in 2 tries in the Raptors first 4 games (although he only played 11 minutes in one game). Dylan Taikato-Simpson will lineup at fullback completing an incredible fastback 3 for the Raptors. The speed in the back 3 makes the Raptors incredibly dangerous on the counter-attack. Additionally, they are capable of running in tries from anywhere on the field. However, it isn’t just the back 3’s speed you have to worry about. Hooker Chad Gough ran in a famous 99m try against Utah last week. It’s not often you see a hooker go 99m untouched for a try, but if you need an idea of the Raptors’ speed, Gough illustrated it perfectly last week.
3 Things To Watch
Sam Malcolm’s Streak
After a bit of a slow start to the season, Sam Malcolm has been on absolute fire in the past 2 games. The highlight of Malcolm’s exceptional play over those games is his successful kick streak. Malcolm was unsuccessful in converting Dan Moor’s game-winning try against Austin. He has not missed since. Against Seattle, he was 6/6 off his boot and against Houston, he was 8/8. Malcolm is now made 100% of his last 14 kicks. He has now passed Houston’s Sam Windsor for the longest successful streak of the 2019 MLR season. Windsor opened the year by going 9/9. Malcolm’s streak hitting 14 surpasses his total number of successful kicks for the Manawatu Turbos in last years’ Mitre 10 Cup (Malcolm was 11/16 last year). Currently, Malcolm has 46 points all off his boot (8 penalties, 11 conversions) which puts him in a tie with San Diego’s Joe Pietersen for second in the league (Seattle’s Brock Staller leads the league with 56 points). He is also tied with NOLA’s JP Eloff with for most conversions in MLR. However, no one has been able to match Malcolm’s impressive streak. We will see how long he can keep it up.
The Arrows have been struggling in the lineout this year. Austin’s Ben Mitchell was able to completely disrupt anything that the Arrows tried to do. Against Houston, it was more of the same. The Arrows were struggling to win their own ball cleanly, and at times didn’t even bother to contest opposition lineouts. In my post-game report for the Houston game, I highlighted the lineout as an area that the Arrows need to work on. The Glendale Raptors should provide a good test as to whether any adjustments have been made. Kolby Francis did manage to score a try off a lineout and rolling maul. That try involved all the elements of a well-executed lineout. There was a pinpoint throw from Steven Ng, a great lift by Josh Van Horne and Peter Milazzo, a great catch by Paul Ciulini, and a great drive led by Rob Brouwer, Tom Dolezel, and Kolby Francis. The maul went straight over the try line. If they needed to go more than the required 5m, they easily could have. On this play, the Arrows showed they are capable of great execution at the lineout. They just need to do it more consistently. Mike Sheppard will be returning to the lineup this week. He will provide valuable leadership to the pack and hopefully be able to help sort out the lineout.
An interesting element of this match to keep an eye on is the weather. The forecast for Saturday night in Glendale is -16 degrees Celsius with between 5-10 cm of snow falling throughout the day. Conditions won’t exactly be ideal. The team that adapts to the elements the best may be the one that comes out on top. Last week Glendale really struggled with the ball in hand. There were ill-advised passes, inaccurate passes, and dropped passes all game. Their tries came from large line breaks as opposed to putting together phases. The snow and cold will make the ball slick. If the ball is harder to catch there will be knock-ons and more knock-ons mean more scrums. The scrum has been one of the strengths of the Arrows’ game. The dominant Arrows scrum also sees the return of Morgan Mitchell. Mitchell has been obliterating opposing props this season and a big reason for the Arrows’ early season success. If the Arrows are once again able to control the scrum it could present them with plenty of scoring opportunities. However, with the unpredictability of the weather, the Arrows may opt to have Malcolm kick at goal on any scrum penalties within the Raptors half. Ultimately, the weather could turn this into a very forward heavy match with lots of scrums and lots of slow-moving ball.
The Toronto Arrows go for their 2nd win in a row against the Glendale Raptors Saturday, March 2nd at 9pm on Game TV and Facebook Watch.