The Toronto Arrows (9-5-0) return from a well-deserved bye week to take on the Glendale Raptors (7-5-2) in the biggest game of the MLR season so far. The Arrows spent their bye week at a cottage up north. The trip allowed them to rest up and recover following a grueling 3 games in 8 days stretch. The trip also served as a way to do some team bonding. “It’s crucial to strengthen those bonds as we head into a challenging part of the season. There’s no secret that the closer you are with your teammates, the more you are willing to put your body on the line and do that little bit more for the team” Captain Dan Moor said of the importance of the cottage trip. The Arrows return from cottage country to find themselves back in the midst of an incredibly tight playoff race. Going into Week 18, just 4 points separate 2nd place from 5th place in the standings. The Arrows sit in 5th with 48 points, just 1 point behind Rugby United New York. The Raptors are currently on the outside looking in. They sit-in 6th with 43 points, 6 back of RUNY. Ultimately, this is a do-or-die game for the Raptors. The Raptors only hope of making the playoffs is to close out the season 2-0-0 by defeating the Toronto Arrows and Houston SaberCats. Even if they do finish off their season with 2 wins, they will still be doing plenty of scoreboard watching in the final week of the season.
Unlike Glendale, the Toronto Arrows are still in complete control of their own destiny. The team is in fine form and have rattled off 5 consecutive wins. A 6th straight win eliminates the Glendale Raptors. A 7th straight win earns them a birth in MLR Playoffs. The Arrows have played the entire second half of the season knowing that they can ill-afford a loss. The playoff race is going to come down to the wire and every single point will be critical in securing one of the 4 playoff spots.
After a week of conserving some bodies for a tough stretch of consecutive games, the Toronto Arrows return to an incredibly strong lineup against the Glendale Raptors. Unfortunately, Lucas Rumball remains out with a knee injury and Jamie Mackenzie has not recovered from a groin injury. Additionally, Avery Oitomen is now at the Canadian U20 camp. Despite the injuries, you are left with the strongest lineup of the year for the Arrows. The pack has been dominant as of late and there have been no changes to the first or second rows. Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, Morgan Mitchell, Mike Sheppard, and Paul Ciulini have been mainstays in the tight 5 all year. The back row sees Luke Campbell in at Number 8 alongside John Moonlight and Peter Milazzo. Marcello Wainwright will be among the reserves. If Wainwright is in the reserves, you know you have a solid back row. The backs will feature Andrew Ferguson at scrumhalf (backed up by Riley Di Nardo) with Sam Malcolm at flyhalf, Guiseppe du Toit at inside centre, and Spencer Jones at outside centre. The wings will be manned by Leandro Leivas and Dan Moor. Leivas is on a 3 game try-scoring streak, and Captain Moor has been among the best players for the Arrows this season. Gaston Mieres will round out the starting xv. Leivas, Moor, and Mieres will all be a part of a critical matchup in this game.
This is easily the biggest game of the season for the Glendale Raptors. Unfortunately, they will have some big names out of the lineup on Sunday. Hanco Germishuys, Marco Fepulea’I, and the Raptors leading scorer Robbie Petzer are among the big names that won’t take the pitch against Toronto. Additionally, scrumhalf Shaun Davies will be among the reserves with Carlo De Nysschen in the 9 jersey. The Raptors 3 biggest offensive guns are still in the lineup. John Ryberg leads MLR with 13 tries and is always a massive threat from the wing. On the opposite wing, Harley Davidson giving the Raptors a deadly threat on both sides of the pitch. Their offensive attack is rounded out by Dylan Taikato-Simpson at fullback. With many big names out of the lineup, Ryberg, Davidson, and Taikato-Simpson will be counted on to have massive performances for the Raptors as they look to keep their playoff hopes alive.
3 Things to Watch
For Glendale to have a chance at making the playoffs, they need 2 bonus point victories to end their season. Two bonus point victories will give the Raptors 53 points at the end of the year. The ideal situation for the Raptors is that NOLA Gold defeats RUNY in addition to the Raptors own win over Toronto. The most unfortunate thing to happen to Glendale’s playoff hopes is that the Toronto Arrows play RUNY in the final week of the season. At the bare minimum, this guarantees that the Arrows and RUNY will pick up 2 points each (what the standings awards for a tie) before the end of the year. Ultimately, this sees RUNY ending the year with a minimum of 51 points and Toronto ending with a minimum of 50. If Glendale can’t earn a bonus point in either victory, they will end the year with 51 points and lose the tiebreaker to RUNY (Glendale will have 9 wins to RUNY’s 10). This puts Glendale in a scenario where the bonus point is just as important as the win. However, this will affect the strategy that Glendale employs throughout the game. Glendale needs that bonus point and therefore should never take the points on a penalty until they have scored 4 tries. They also need to ensure that the Arrows do not pick up a bonus point.
Glendale already has a slim chance of making the playoffs. This slim chance is almost reliant on the Arrows not picking up any bonus points. Returning to Glendale’s ideal scenario here for a moment; if Toronto and RUNY both lose this weekend (without picking up bonus points) and Toronto beats RUNY (with no bonus points) the Arrows will end their season with 52 points. If the Raptors have 2 bonus point victories, they will be in the playoffs with 53 points. If the Raptors allow the Arrows 1 or 2 bonus points, it becomes exponentially harder for the Raptors to make the playoffs. The Raptors need a full 80-minute effort. They cannot allow the Arrows any late points that could secure them a bonus point. The Raptors must keep their foot on the gas and ensure a dominant victory if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Arrows scrum has been absolutely dominant in recent games. The Raptors’ scrum has been seen as a weakness in an otherwise strong team. The Raptors have brought in Canadian Noah Barker to help stabilize the scrum. To some extent, it has worked. However, the Raptors pack will be in tough to match up with the Arrows’ pack. Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, and Morgan Mitchell have developed into one of the top front rows in MLR. They are supported by an outstanding cast of Mike Sheppard, Paul Ciulini, John Moonlight, Peter Milazzo, and Luke Campbell. The Arrows scrum was dominant against San Diego, Austin, and Utah last week and will likely put in a similar performance against Glendale. Bonus points will once again be important for the Arrows. If they are awarded a penalty close to the goal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them opt for the scrum. John Sheridan had a great try right off the scrum in the last game against Utah and of course, the Arrows also had a penalty try. The Arrows scrum (and the set-piece plays from those scrums) have been leading to a lot of points lately. That trend should continue against a Glendale pack that has struggled throughout the year.
Leivas, Moor, Mieres vs Davidson, Ryberg, Taikato-Simpson
“They are an explosive team so we need to ensure that we don’t give them easy opportunities as they have the firepower to convert them”. This was one of the keys to defeating Glendale that Dan Moor highlighted. That firepower largely comes from their wings and fullback. The top 3 try scorers on the Glendale Raptors are John Ryberg (who leads the league with 13), Harley Davidson (6), and Dylan Taikato-Simpson (5). The three of them provide Glendale with a deadly attack. The Arrows defence must contain these 3 players if they are going to win this game. The defensive shift out to the wings needs to be strong throughout the game. “It will require pulling width on defense in the backs and ensuring we can get two-man tackles on their wingers” said Moor. The defense from the Arrows wingers has been terrific over the course of their winning streak. Moor, Leivas, and Mieres have all been great with their coverage out wide. Opponents have been having their space taken away very quickly and a number have been tackled into touch. Often, those have been the result of 2 man tackles. A lot of Glendale’s offense runs through Ryberg, Davidson, and Taikato-Simpson and if the Arrows can limit their impact, they could starve the Raptors of offensive opportunities. Part of that will be the Arrows game management. Sam Malcolm will be vital in ensuring that the Arrows stay in the right parts of the park on Sunday. In the kicking game, he will need to be mindful of where Ryberg, Davidson, and Taikato-Simpson are on the pitch. All 3 of them can be deadly in counter-attacks, so kicks will need to find space to give the Arrows defense time to set up. Ultimately, Moor believes that “[Ryberg and Davidson] will be a good challenge, but I back our players’ ability to get the job done”.
The Toronto Arrows continue their hunt for the MLR playoffs as they take on the Glendale Raptors at 2pm Sunday afternoon at Lamport Stadium. It is Ruck vs Cancer night, so the Arrows will be wearing special #RuckCancer home jerseys. The jerseys will be auctioned off following the game with the proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society. The auction will conclude at the post-game social at William’s Landing. If you can’t make it to the game, you can catch it on Game TV or Facebook Watch.