The Toronto Arrows (1-2-0) travel to Texas for the second time this season as they prepare to take on the Houston SaberCats (1-1-0) in their home opener. Houston will certainly be the more rested team heading into this game. The SaberCats are coming off of their 2nd bye week of the season, meanwhile, the Arrows have a quick turnaround following a physical battle with Seattle on Sunday night. Both teams will be looking to earn their way back into the win column after suffering disappointing comeback losses in their previous games. The Arrows gave up 18 unanswered points to Seattle as the Seawolves walked away with a 35-30 victory. Houston gave up 2 tries in the final 6 minutes of their game with San Diego handing the SaberCats a crushing 17-13 defeat for their first loss of the year.
Morgan Mitchell suffered a rib injury in last week’s match against the Seattle Seawolves so he has been ruled out of this match. No timetable has been set for his return. Mitchell has arguably been the Arrows best player through their first 3 games. Tom Dolezel replaces him at tighthead prop. Dolezel will be joined by Andrew Quattrin and Rob Brouwer in the front row. Josh Van Horne returns to the number 4 jersey with Mike Sheppard away at the Americas Rugby Championship. Shawn Windsor finds himself out of the matchday 23. Jack Evans will start at fullback and Los Teros fullback Gaston Mieres will come off the bench. Mieres will be joined on the bench by his Los Teros teammate Leandro Levias. Levias is a winger and will likely replace Avery Oitomen or John Sheridan during the match. Mieres and Levias will be making their Toronto Arrows debuts on Friday night.
The big news coming out of Houston’s starting XV announcement is that Josua Vici will not be in the lineup on Friday night. Vici was among the league’s top try scorers last year and has the SaberCats lone try of the 2019 season. Vici put in a brilliant shift last week. Apart from scoring Houston’s only try he was all over the park and displayed an incredibly high work rate. Unfortunately, it appears he may have re-aggravated his injury and will be out of the lineup this week. Fortunately, Houston sees a number of key players added to their lineup this week. Levias and Mieres won’t be the only Los Teros making their MLR debuts in this game as the SaberCats will welcome a Los Teros trio. Mateo Sanguinetti will get the start at loosehead prop. Lock Diego Magno and No.8 Alejandro Nieto will begin the game on the bench. The trio combines for 210 caps for Uruguay. Sanguinetti will provide a big boost to the SaberCats scrum. The Arrows have had a brilliant scrum for the past 2 games, but they will be without Mitchell in their front row. As a result, Sanguinetti vs Dolezel will be a key matchup in this game. The SaberCats also welcome the return of Osea Kolinisau, which brings us to our 3 things to watch.
3 Things To Watch
The Return of Osea Kolinisau
Osea Kolinisau is an absolute legend. Kolinisau is a past member of the famed Fijian Sevens team often nicknamed the Flying Fijians. On the World Rugby Sevens Series, Kolinisau has played in 301 matches. He has scored 122 tries and 331 conversions for 1,272 total points. Kolinisau is currently 12th in all-time scoring on the Sevens Series. Kolinisau captained Fiji to back-to-back Sevens Series Championships in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. Kolinisau was not only the captain of the Fijian Olympic team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he also served as the nation’s flag bearer. At the Rio Olympics, Kolinisau led the Fijians to the country’s first Olympic Gold Medal. Kolinisau brings all the flare that Fijian rugby is known for. Intense physicality, blinding speed, and offloads that will make your jaw drop. He also possesses one of the nastiest cutback moves you will ever see. Kolinisau had 6 tries last year which put him in a tie for 5th with teammate Josua Vici. Unfortunately, Vici won’t be in the lineup on Friday so we won’t get the full impact of the Fijian flare. Regardless, it’s great to see Kolinisau return to the SaberCats lineup. Kolinisau is one of the most entertaining players in MLR and when he plays SaberCats games are must watch tv.
If the Toronto Arrows want to win this game, shutting down Sam Windsor is priority number 1. Windsor put up 103 points to lead the MLR in scoring last year. That is largely due to his exceptional goal kicking ability. Through Houston’s first 2 games Windsor is a perfect 9/9 on penalty goals and 1/1 on conversions. Last year, he didn’t miss very often and, as the stats suggest, he has been completely locked in this year. Houston was able to defeat Austin 21-20 without scoring a single try. All 21 points came off Windsor’s boot. Houston only has one try in their first two games. Windsor set up Vici with a nice behind the back pop pass that created a huge gap in the San Diego defense for Vici to slice through. As the flyhalf, Windsor is set up as the first receiver on the majority of phases. Houston’s offense completely runs through him and if he is stopped, Houston is stopped. Houston plays a very defensive, counter-attack style of rugby. In the game against Austin and especially in the 2nd half against San Diego, Houston was more than happy to play defense, create a turnover, and kick for territory. Play defense, create a turnover, kick for territory, rinse and repeat. I honestly lost count of how many clearance box kicks Connor Murphy had last week. Every time they got the ball Murphy would clear, or pass to Windsor to clear and they would go back to playing defense. They will try to draw penalties at every breakdown in the offensive half and if they do, they will bring out the tee for Windsor.
Thus, we have arrived at how you stop Sam Windsor and therefore, how to stop Houston; Windsor can’t kick penalty goals if you don’t take penalties. However, discipline has been a bit of an issue for the Arrows this year. In their win over Austin, they took a lot of penalties (some may have been questionable calls, but there was still a lot). In last weeks loss to Seattle, the Arrows gave away two penalties in the closing minutes. Brock Staller split the post both times and Seattle walked out with the victory. If the Arrows can avoid taking penalties they will remove Windsor’s ability to add points to the board. By doing so they will shut down the majority of Houston’s offense. If they can’t, Windsor has already shown this year that Houston doesn’t need a try to win games if you give him enough opportunities.
Los Teros Add to Arrows Back 3 Depth
Due to a combination of players being unavailable and the Americas Rugby Championship, we have yet to see a full-power Arrows squad and this week, we still won’t. However, we will get insight into one of the best battles for a starting spot in MLR. If you want to wear the 11, 14, and 15 jerseys for the Toronto Arrows, you have some stiff competition. The Arrows back 3 is incredibly deep. Probably the deepest in the MLR. With the arrival of Leandro Levias and Gaston Mieres, it just became a lot harder to earn a starting spot on this team. Levias has 74 caps with Los Teros and Mieres has 65. Levias and Mieres have undeniable talent, however, they will have to play well when given the chance in order to stay in the lineup. The Arrows have plenty of options for the wings and fullback positions. Avery Oitomen, John Sheridan, and Jack Evans start in the back 3 against Houston and Shawn Windsor is left out of the lineup. Kainoa Lloyd and Theo Sauder are away with the Canadian national team, but once they return the competition will become even greater. And let’s not forget Dan Moor. Moor has been lining up at centre for the past two games, but he did have 2 tries from the wing in the season opener against NOLA.
Ultimately, Levias, Oitomen, Sheridan, and Lloyd are the team’s 4 wingers and Evans, Mieres, and Sauder are the 3 fullbacks. Windsor has been playing fullback for most of the year but is capable of playing flyhalf. With no true backup for Sam Malcolm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Windsor slide into that role. Similarly, as long as it is successful Moor will probably remain at centre. Even with Moor and Windsor slotted into other positions, that still leaves 7 players for 3 starting positions. Oitomen, Sheridan, Evans, Levias, and Mieres will all be looking to have strong performances against Houston in order to begin solidifying their place in the Arrows lineup
The Toronto Arrows take on the Houston SaberCats in week 5 of the MLR season. You can catch the game Friday, February 22nd, 2019 at 8pm on Game TV or Facebook Watch.