The Toronto Arrows (4-5-0) got an unexpected bye week when poor weather conditions grounded the flight carrying Austin Elite Rugby. That game was postponed until Thursday, May 9th, 2019 at 7pm. The Houston SaberCats (2-7-0) are coming off of the historic opening of Aveva Stadium. The SaberCats new home is just the 2nd rugby-specific stadium in the United States. Unfortunately, the Seattle Seawolves spoiled the party and defeated Houston by a score of 52-10. The SaberCats home field advantage ultimately ended up hurting them a lot. The sod on the grass failed to set properly. The SaberCats weren’t even allowed to practice on it this week for fear that it wouldn't take root. Right from the opening kickoff, the grass was being torn up. Every ruck left a divot and every scrum left a crater. Referee Derek Summers declared that the scrums would be uncontested in the 21st minute, effectively taking away one of Houston’s strengths and opening the floodgates for Seattle. The Arrows had a tough loss to NOLA their last time out. Now due to Austin’s travel issues, that loss has had an extra week to marinate. The Arrows should be eager to get back on the pitch and put on a show for their home fans.
Chris Silverthorn appeared to be shaking up the lineup a bit as the Arrows were set to play Austin Elite. Many players including Jamie Mackenzie, Theo Sauder, and Leandro Leivas were all slated to be making their first MLR starts. Well, we may have waited an extra week, but the lineup the Arrows will deploy against Houston is virtually identical to the one that was supposed to Austin. However, there are still 2 changes from that lineup. Paul Ciulini is out and will be replaced by Kolby Francis. Tom Van Horne takes Francis’ spot in the reserves. Tom Lynott will also be replacing Tom Dolezel in the reserves. The changes that were initially made following the NOLA game still apply. Cole Keith starts in place of Morgan Mitchell. Marcello Wainwright starts at Number 8 shifting Lucas Rumball to flanker and John Moonlight to the reserves. Mackenzie will start at scrumhalf with Riley Di Nardo backing up. Theo Sauder will be at fullback and Leivas starts on the wing. As a result, Dan Moor will be at centre pushing Spencer Jones and Gaston Mieres out of the lineup. Shawn Windsor will be with the reserves.
The SaberCats had a rough outing against Seattle last week. As a result, the SaberCats have made plenty of changes to the lineup. The majority of these changes are to the forward pack. Matteo Sanguinetti, Charlie Connolly, Matt Trouville, and Cecil Garber all find themselves out of the starting lineup this week. Trouville even served as the captain last week and now finds himself in the reserves. They are replaced by Jamie Dever, Paul Mullen, Victor Comptat, and Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz. The back line only sees one change as new signee Thretton Palamo will make his first MLR start. Palamo will be at inside centre and Max Tacket will be among the reserves. Palamo is a solid mid-year signing for the SaberCats and that brings us to our 3 things to watch.
3 Things to Watch
The Houston SaberCats have struggled mightily on offense this season. They are one of just 2 teams that have not cracked 200 points on the year (Austin is the other). They are also the only MLR team that has not reached 20 tries. Furthermore, 6 teams in the league (NOLA, RUNY, Seattle, Glendale, Toronto, and San Diego) have all at least doubled the SaberCats’ total of 16. Osea Kolinisau found himself among the league’s try leaders last year. This year he only has 2. Josua Vici also found the try line frequently in 2018. However, he is currently serving an 8-game suspension. Sam Windsor leads the team in tries with 3 but, he can’t be expected to do everything for this team. The SaberCats are hoping they have found their answers to their try-scoring woes. Prior to their game against Seattle, the SaberCats announced that they have signed centre Thretton Palamo. Palamo is a former USA Eagle, who at one point was the youngest player to ever play in the Rugby World Cup. Palamo was just 19 years and 8 days old when he stepped on the pitch to play the Springboks at the 2007 World Cup. Since then Palamo had a decorative collegiate career with the University of Utah and has had stints with the Bristol Bears, Saracens, London Welsh, and Newport Gwent Dragons. Palamo also had a successful run with the USA Sevens team. Palamo had 8 tries in 52 matches on the World Sevens Series. Palamo is an incredibly hard runner, often taking very direct lines and opting to go through people instead of around people on most occasions. However, he does have a solid sidestep in his repertoire. Palamo is coming off of a lingering foot injury and last week’s match against Seattle was his first game in over a year. Palamo was among the reserves but came on in the 48th minute. Despite, Seattle controlling the 2nd half, Palamo ran in true Palamo style and easily broke the gain line for his first try of the year during the 67th minute. Palamo will be starting for Houston for the first time on Sunday. We will see how he fairs.
The scrum is a strength of both the Toronto Arrows and the Houston SaberCats. Houston relies heavily on their scrum to earn penalties in order to gain territory or to set up Sam Windsor for a kick at goal. Last week’s match against Seattle revealed a glaring hole in the SaberCats game. The SaberCats have struggled all year, however, the Seattle game did a great job of showing everyone why. In the 21st minute, referee Derek Summers decided to implement uncontested scrums due to the field conditions. Every previous scrum absolutely tore up the pitch. Summers was initially just relocating scrums but he soon switched to uncontested in the name of player’s safety. In the 21st minute, Houston was trailing just 8-5, with each side having a try. However, Seattle began to slowly take over the game and the floodgates were completely opened in the 2nd half. A large part of this was because Houston struggles to gain any territory when they were not able to utilize the scrum to their advantage. By removing the scrum from the match Houston was suffocated and Seattle destroyed them. Now, the pitch at York Alumni Stadium will not be dug up like Aveva Stadium was last week so Cole Keith, Andrew Quattrin, and Rob Brouwer will once again be charged with stopping the opposing scrum. If the Arrows scrum is able to hold steady, get some big shoves, and earn penalties from the scrum, they will defeat the Houston SaberCats. Toronto’s backline is significantly better and has an incredible offensive ability. That offense should be able to take over and rack up some tries. The best way for Houston to stay in this game is a strong performance from the scrum. If they can’t deliver that, they will not leave York with a victory.
New Look Lineup
The Arrows appeared to have planned on doing some experimentation with the lineup last week. Unfortunately, that game was postponed. However, it appears as though they are still going forward with this lineup. As I have written in the past, I believe the Arrows are one of the deepest teams in MLR. With their level of depth, sometimes the best way to figure out the optimal lineup is to give everyone a chance to prove themselves. As a result, the focus will shift to a few of those players who are trying to earn more playing time with the club. It will be interesting to see if anyone takes this opportunity and truly runs with it by playing an outstanding game against Houston. Despite, earning a significant amount of playing time with Canada at the ARC, Keith has returned to an Arrows squad that has seen Morgan Mitchell become one of the leagues, top front rowers. Keith will be looking to have a great game as he tries to earn the number 3 jersey back. As mentioned above, the scrum will be key in determining the winner of this game. Keith will have a big role to play on Sunday afternoon. As a winger, Leivas finds himself in one of the toughest positional competition in the league. The Arrows wing is loaded and honestly, the fact that a player of Leivas’ calibre seems to have a difficult time cracking the starting XV is a testament to how deep the Arrows really are. I will be looking for him to have a big game as well. The Arrows’ players believe that Wainwright is one of the most underrated players in MLR. He gets a chance to show why as he returns to the starting lineup. Makenzie and Sauder will be making their first MLR starts. The starting fullback position is also heavily contested. Mieres had two tries against NOLA last week. Hopefully, Sauder can turn in another great game from an Arrows fullback. The third cog to the fullback competition is Shawn Windsor. Windsor will be among the reserves and will want to positively impact the game when called upon. With Silverthorn shaking up the lineup, a lot of players have an opportunity to really showcase their abilities.
The Toronto Arrows will be looking to earn their first home win of the season as they take on the Houston SaberCats at York Alumni Stadium. The game kicks off at 2pm. If you can’t make it to the stadium, you can catch the game on Facebook Watch or Game TV.