The Toronto Arrows are heading to Las Vegas to take part in the first MLR Vegas Weekend. The Arrows will be joined by their opponents, the Houston SaberCats as well as the San Diego Legion, Colorado Raptors, Austin Gilgronis, Rugby United New York, Utah Warriors, and New England Free Jacks for 4 games over two days at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Arrows and SaberCats kick off the 2nd day of the weekend.
Both the Arrows and SaberCats got off to flying starts to their 2020 campaign. The Arrows used their powerful scrum to set the platform for a dominant victory over the Austin Gilgronis. Houston’s scrum similarly dominated the Colorado Raptors.
Sam Windsor dissected the Raptors defense with a great territorial kicking game. For the Arrows, Dan Moor’s 116m carried was 2nd to just John Ryberg’s 118m against Houston. The highlight of the Arrows match was a perfectly executed counter-attack that completely embraced their expansive brand of rugby. Both clubs will be looking to continue that momentum into week 2.
The Arrows injury report has listed wingers Gaston Mieres and Leandro Leivas as day-to-day. With both wingers out Jonny Sheridan will make his first start of 2020 and join Dan Moor and Sam Malcolm in the outside backs. Sheridan is the only change to the starting XV as he directly replaces the 11 jersey vacated by Mieres. Will Kelly is in line to make his Toronto Arrows and MLR debut as he slots into the reserve spot freed up in Leivas’ absence.
One non-injury-related change is Tom van Horne will make his first appearance of 2020 replacing Kolby Francis. Everything in the starting pack remains the same. After last week’s dominating performance, why would you bother changing anything?
A handful of changes have been made by the SaberCats. The biggest change is Taylor Howden starting at 12 after coming off the bench last week. Howden’s first start shifts Tiaan Loots to outside centre and Matias Freyre to fullback causing Osea Kolinisau to be pushed out of the lineup.
The front row has two changes as Turbos hooker Timothy Cadwallader and prop Boyd Wiggins draw in for Diego Fortuny and Charles Connolly. Luke Beauchamp takes the place of flanker Cecil Garber. The bench features Fortuny, Connolly, and Garber as they make room for the new starters. Timothy Stanfill is the only new face in the reserves.
3 Things to Watch
The Toronto Arrows are one of the deepest teams in MLR. That depth is about to be tested for the first time this season. With Mieres and Leivas out for the match, Johnny Sheridan has been given the chance to step up. He will be an intriguing player to keep an eye on this week. Sheridan racked up 2 tries in six games in 2019. Although he has been utilized primarily in a depth role. He has excelled when stepping on the pitch.
A key to Houston’s success last week was Sam Windsor’s kicking from hand. Windsor often caught the Raptors winger Ryberg out of position and placed numerous kicks where Ryberg could not field them. Those kicks allowed Houston to flip the pitch and either get out of a dangerous situation or set up an attacking opportunity. With Moor on the other side, Windsor will likely direct a lot of similar kicks Sheridan’s way.
The scrum was a big part of the reason that Houston and Toronto each won their week 1 matchups. Toronto won 100% of their own scrums while holding Austin to just 73%. Houston also won 100% of their own scrums but dropped Colorado to just 67%. It’s safe to say that both clubs will face stronger competition this week. The Arrows made no changes to their pack from last week, so look for the usual suspects of Lucas Rumball and Mike Sheppard to have outstanding games once again.
One player that will be fun to keep an eye on is Richie Asiata. Asiata demonstrated that he is perfect capable of being part of a dominant scrum from either the loosehead or tighthead side. Outside of the scrum he racked up 5.8m per carry and completed 100% of his tackles. Asiata start is suggesting that he could play a major part in the Arrows success this year, so he will certainly be one to keep an eye on in this match. He will be matched up with Boyd Wiggins. Wiggins will be part of a solid front row with Timothy Cadwallader and Val Lee-lo.
Another threat in the SaberCat pack is Namibian Adriaan Booysen. Booysen racked up plenty of metres and a try last week against Colorado. Many of those meters came from 8-man picks at the back of strong scrums. Flankers Tomas de la Vega and Lucas Rumball will need to be on their toes. Of course, Manuel Diana poses the same threat to the SaberCats. Their flankers Luke Beauchamp and Diego Magno will need to be sharp as well.
Sam Windsor is one of the best goalkickers in MLR. Last season, around this time, he single-handily won a game for the SaberCats by kicking 9 for 9 on penalties. Last week was bizarre as he just didn’t seem to look that sharp. It was an extremely uncharacteristic game form Windsor as he only went 2/6 leaving 9 total points off the board.
Now, I’m being a tad harsh here. It’s not as if Windsor had a bad game. He had a try, 34m carried, and a whopping 238m in kicks from hand. As I mentioned above, those kicks dissected the Raptors defense. It’s no secret that the SaberCats captain is the heartbeat of their club. When he plays great, they win. If he struggles, they likely lose. At least that is how it appeared last season.
The club has come a long way since needing Windsor to go 9 from 9 on penalties to win a match. Dating back to last year, they have now won 5 in a row. Windsor is far from the only threat in the backline. Centre Tiaan Loots and fullback Matias Freyre both looked in fine form against Colorado. Loots will team up with Howden for what should be an intriguing matchup with Guiseppe du Toit and Ben LeSage. Windsor is still the key cog. If he is on his game, he can maximize every try and make penalties costly.
The Toronto Arrows will take on the Houston SaberCats as part of the first MLR Vegas weekend. The match kicks off at 2:30pm on TSN.ca. Layman’s Sports will be live from the MLR Vegas weekend! Be sure to follow @BressetteTheJet and @LaymansSports on your favourite social media network for all your Vegas weekend coverage.