This is a big one! On Friday night the Toronto Arrows (3-3-0) will take on Rugby United New York (4-1-0) for the first time in Major League Rugby. The game will serve as RUNY’s home opener at MCU Park on Coney Island and become the first MLR game played in the Eastern time zone. The Toronto Arrows and RUNY will forever be linked as the first two MLR expansion teams and this will be the first time the square off in an MLR game.
The Toronto Arrows are coming off a massive second half comeback against the San Diego Legion. With the Arrows down 20-3 early in the second half, Avery Oitomen scored 2 tries as they stormed back with 24 unanswered points to take home a 27-20 victory. The Arrows were able to pick up the win against one of the MLR’s best defense and that comeback should provide them with plenty of momentum going forward. Toronto is yet to win back-to-back games yet this year. They will be looking to change that in New York.
Rugby United New York is coming off of a dominate performance against the Utah Warriors. Despite the snow, RUNY was able to move the ball incredibley well in the backs and their forwards were able to completely dominate the Warriors’ pack. With tries from Mark O’ Keefe, James Denise, and two from Connor Wallace-Sims, RUNY was able to pick up the try bonus in the first half. The second half would see a RUNY earn a penalty try to go along with a try from Trevor Cassidy and O’Keefe’s 2nd for as they cruised to a 47-21 victory. The RUNY forward pack has been dominant in recent games and their backs posses an incredible ability to finish off plays. Ultimately, RUNY is the team that is closest to the Arrows in terms of their style of play so this will be a huge test for both teams. RUNY currently sits 5th in the MLR standings, the Arrows are 6th. Only 2 points separates them and this game could set the tone for their inevitable playoff race.
Avery Oitomen had an unreal game against the San Diego Legion. Unfortunately, he did leave the game following a collision with San Diego fullback Kyle Rogers and it appears the injury he sustained on that play will be keeping him out of the lineup against RUNY. The Legion game was a 10:30 pm eastern time start on Sunday night and the Arrows are set to take on RUNY at 7pm on Friday night. It is essentially the quickest turnaround you can possibly have. Traveling across the continent probably didn’t aid recovery too much either. The Arrows are on a bye next week so hopefully Oitomen can return against Utah on March 30th. With the conclusion of the ARC, the Arrows see the return of a number of international players to the squad. Captain Lucas Rumball will be back at eightman, Los Teros winger Gaston Mieres starts in Oitomen’s absence, and prop Cole Keith will come on in relief. They join their fellow ARC participants lock Mike Sheppard and centre Guiseppe du Toit who returned to the Arrows last week. Unfortunately, with these players returning it means someone has to lose a spot. Marcello Wainwright and Pat Lynott are the two unlucky players who find themselves out of the lineup.Ultimately, the Arrows are fielding their strongest lineup of the season and they will need it against a very strong New York side.
RUNY boasts an incredibly strong Starting XV heading into week 8. Cathal Marsh will be starting at flyhalf after leaving the match with Utah early due to an injury. Marsh is one of RUNY’s best players as he serves as the team’s key ball distributor as well as their kicker. Marsh has leads RUNY in scoring amassing 41 points (1 try, 4 penalties, 12 conversions) this year. RUNY fans will be delighted that he is not missing any games due to last week’s injury. Marsh is joined by an incredible back line that features Luke Hume and Mike St. Claire…Oh wait, those are the guys that come off the bench? Well this is definitely the strongest 23 man squad the Arrows have faced all year. The starting backs consist of reigning MLR player of the week Mark O’Keefe, RUNY’s leading try scorer Connor Wallace-Sims, Chris Mattina is playing out of his mind this year, 2018 All Muster Provincial Player of the year Will Leonard, and Six Nations Champion Ben Foden lines up at fullback. They are linked to the strong forward pack by Mike Petri. Petri is a veteran of 3 Rugby World Cups and has multiple National Championships with NYAC. Petri is right up there with Seattle’s Phil Mack and Glendale’s Shaun Davies as one of MLR’s elite scrumhalves. In front of Petri is an absolutely loaded pack. The front row features Irish prop James Rotchford and two USA Eagles in hooker Dylan Fawsitt and prop Paddy Ryan. Additionally, Fawsitt is the best the best hooker in MLR and was named to the First All MLR team last year. Trevor Cassidy and Nate Brakeley will wear the 4 and 5 jerseys. The back row consists of John Quill, James Denise, and Ross Deacon. Quill, Denise, and Deacon are masterful at the breakdown and are the driving force behind RUNY’s forward dominance. Ultimately, this lineup is stacked and the Arrows will have their hands full on Friday night.
3 Things to Watch
Ben Foden was RUNY’s marquee signing prior to their inaugural MLR season. In fact Foden was the marquee signing in all of MLR. The 33 year old Foden joined RUNY following a 14 year career in the Premiership. Foden split his 218 match career between the Sale Sharks (44) and Northampton Saints (174). During that time he amassed 47 tries. Foden also represented England at the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup. In total he Foden has been capped by England 34 times scoring 7 tries. Foden is a Six Nations Champion (2011), a European Challenge Cup Champion (2009), and a two time Premiership Champion (2006 with Sale and 2014 with Northampton). Ultimately, Foden is an incredibly important player for Major League Rugby. Of all the MLR player’s Foden has the may have the biggest global recognition (Josua Vici, Osea Kolinisau, and Jasa Veremalua are all members of Fiji’s Olympic Gold Medal winning team and huge names in their own right). He has spent his entire career in one of the best leagues in the world and represented England in some of the biggest tournaments in rugby. Foden’s presence in MLR helps to legitimize the league on a global scale. By having Foden on their team RUNY could be opening a lot of doors for other big name players to come over and join an MLR team towards the end of their career. MLR gets a lot of comparisons to Major League Soccer. Part of those comparisons is the MLR is trying to take a sport that is not as popular in North America and make it commercially successful and that they are essentially following the same business model to accomplish that. One of the biggest reasons for MLS’ growth in popularity was David Beckham joining the LA Galaxy in 2007. Having a bonafide global superstar in the league did wonders for MLS and they were able to rapidly expand their reach and attract bigger and better sponsors. Foden isn’t quite the rugby equivalent of Beckham. However, his inclusion in the league this early on could open the door for that player to arrive in the near future. Foden has spent the last 14 years playing rugby at its highest level. Word of mouth can be very persuasive. If Foden has a great experience in MLR, he may be more inclined to help recruit players to the league.
On the field Foden will lineup at fullback. For the first 3 games of the season RUNY head coach Mike Tolkin had Foden lining up at centre. However, Foden wouldn’t pick up his first MLR try until he was moved to fullback for RUNY’s 35-8 win over Houston. Foden spent the majority of his career at fullback and returning to the position seems to have lit a fire under him. Foden followed up the Houston game with a terrific performance against Utah. Foden is an extremely active fullback and frequently injects himself into the play. He will even pop up with the forwards when RUNY is playing slow ball. In last week’s match with Utah, Foden helped drive James Denise across the try line from close range. Foden is a crucial reason for RUNY’s dynamic ball movement in the back line. RUNY’s forwards do an excellent job of creating space for the backs, but Foden knows where to inject himself on the back line and who to distribute the ball to in order to make that space even bigger. Foden is also a great tactician who can help RUNY control the possession and territory in the game.
Arrows’ Internal Battle for Jobs
The Toronto Arrows have made it through the toughest part of their season. The Arrows were the team hit hardest by the Americas Rugby Championship as they had 9 players representing Canada and Uruguay. They have also played all 6 of their games on the road. Their match with RUNY will be their 7th of 8 straight road games to start the season. However, despite these obstacles, Toronto finds themselves at 3-3-0 and sitting 6th overall in MLR, just 3 points out of a playoff spot. As they approach the 2nd half of the season the outlook for the Arrows can only be positive. They need to play 2 more road games, however they get a decent chunk of their true full strength squad back. However, Theo Sauder, Jamie Mackenzie, Leandro Levias, and Kainoa Lloyd are all absent as they recover from ARC.
Additionally Avery Oitomen is out with an injury he sustained against San Diego and Marcello Wainwright has made room for Lucas Rumball’s return. This still leaves the Arrows with 6 pretty big names out of the lineup. When they become healthy and available, they will all be gunning for starting jerseys on this team. Every player on the Arrows roster must have a big game against RUNY, if not this roster is deep enough that one bad game could open the door for another player to step in. Shawn Windsor knows Sauder and Levias are joining the team soon. He will need a big game if he wants to retain the 15 jersey. Same with the wingers. Oitomen and Lloyd are absent, this opens the door for Moor and Mieres to make a statement. Jack Nay did not have the greatest opening half against San Diego. He will want to have a big bounce back game with Francis eyeing that No. 8 jersey. To give you the idea of the Arrows depth, Francis is one of the top try scorers amongst forwards (he is tied for the top spot with Glendale’s Chad Gough at 3 tries) and he is coming off the bench. The Arrows can have a monster lineup come their 2nd half homestand. However, many roster spots may not be solidified. This match against RUNY is a chance for everyone to prove themselves.
This should be a very interesting match for both Rugby United New York and the Toronto Arrows. The Arrows are very proud of their “lunchpail and hard hat style.” Apparently they take this quite literally as Mark Winokur revealed that their player of the game award is a hardhat from the Andes plane crash that carried a Uruguayan rugby team (which is a crazy story and will probably be a future Ruck U instalment). The Arrows forward pack is a big part of their gameplan. They like to play a physical game and their pack is what facilitates them doing so. The scrum has been a focal point of the team’s success so far this season. When the pack is effective, they are able to open up holes in opposing defenses that their speedy and dynamic backs can exploit for tries. Rugby United New York is very similar. The forwards are the driving force of the team and have often found ways to dominate games. For the Arrows no other team in MLR is as close to their style of play as RUNY. With the similarities in play style, there will be plenty of key matchups in this game. The biggest matchup up is the packs. RUNY and the Arrows have two of the best scrums in MLR. The Arrows have been able to use their scrum to draw penalties, generate turnovers, and score tries. The match against Glendale even proved that the scrum can still be dominant despite outplayed in all other elements of the game. Morgan Mitchell, Andrew Quattrin, Rob Brouwer will lead the charge in the front row against Paddy Ryan, Dylan Fawsitt, and James Rotchford. At the breakdowns the back row will find plenty of head to head matchups. Arrows’ captain Lucas Rumball returns from the ARC and he will be greeted with one of MLR’s best back rows in Quill, Denise, and Deacon. Nay will want to have a big game as well and Milazzo was a force in the 2nd half against SD. They will all need to be on their games against this RUNY pack. The Arrows have struggled in the lineouts this year. Paul Ciulini will want to help change that trend friday night. He will be jumping alongside Nate Brakeley who is playing outstanding as well. Mike Sheppard and Trevor Cassidy round out the matchup in the number 4 jerseys. Expect them to both have an incredibly high work rate as these two packs battle all night.
This has all the potential to be an absolute classic! Tune into Rugby United New York’s historic home opener as they take on the Toronto Arrows at 7pm Friday night. You can catch the game on Facebook Watch or Game TV.