A spot in the MLR Championship Series will be on the line when the Toronto Arrows (10-5-0) welcome Rugby United New York (11-4-0) to Lamport Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Both teams find themselves in deadlocked in a 4 way for 2nd in the MLR standings. RUNY has 11 wins so they currently sit 2nd overall with the Arrows one spot behind them. Ultimately, a victory on Sunday will guarantee the winner a spot in the Championship Series. A loss and they will have to wait on the results of San Diego Legion vs NOLA Gold and Seattle Seawolves vs Austin Elite Rugby. The last time these two clubs faced off, the Arrows dropped a heartbreaker 24-21 as RUNY got a 79th minute try from John Quill. That game dropped the Arrows to 3-4-0 on the year. However, the Arrows have been getting better and better each week. The Americas Rugby Championship also concluded the weekend of that match with RUNY. No team in MLR was hit harder by the ARC than the Arrows.
After, that heartbreaking loss, the Arrows got their full team together for the first time. Since that game, the Arrows have become the hottest team in MLR and have gone 8-1-0 since then. Over that 8-1-0 stretch, the Arrows have shown that they have the best pack in the league. The scum was absolutely dominant against Glendale last weekend as the Arrows cruised to a 40-12 victory to set up this winner takes all clash with RUNY. The Arrows pack will certainly face a challenge in RUNY. RUNY has a very effective driving maul that they frequently use in attacking positions. Hooker Dylan Fawsitt finds himself among the league’s top try scorers, largely because of this strategy. The MLR season is winding down and it will be one of the most exciting finishes in recent history. The Arrows and RUNY match will be the highlight of the weekend. It is essentially a quarter-final match. Both clubs are in a win and you’re in scenario. Both clubs could be out if they lose. This is the biggest MLR game of the season. It will be an awesome contest.
The Arrows are coming off of a dominant victory against the Glendale Raptors. As a result, Silverthorn has made very minimal changes to the starting XV. The biggest change is at scrumhalf. Jamie Mackenzie returns from his groin injury and will don the number 9 jersey for the blue and white this Sunday. Andrew Ferguson, who had a phenomenal game last week, will back up Mackenzie in the reserves. The only other change in the lineup is Peter Milazzo and John Moonlight will be swapping sides. Milazzo is now on the openside flanker and Moonlight will play the blindside. The flanker swap is the only change to a forward pack that ran through Glendale last week. Most importantly the tight 5 of Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, Morgan Mitchell, Mike Sheppard, and Paul Ciulini stays intact. Luke Campbell starts at 8-man to round out the pack. Other than Mackenzie starting at scrumhalf, the backs remain the same as last week. The reserves are also unchanged with the exception of Ferguson making room for Mackenzie to start.
RUNY will also have a strong starting XV running out on the pitch Sunday afternoon. Following their big win against NOLA last week Mike Tolkin has made minimal changes to his squad. Trevor Cassidy will replace Alex MacDonald at lock. Cassidy is the only change to the starting XV. MacDonald will slide into the reserves, where there is a handful of changes. Callum Mackintosh, Chance Wenglewski, James Denise, and Chris Mattina replace Sean McNulty, Anthony Parry, Chris Sullivan, Kyle Sumison, and Luke Hume. The squad is highlighted by Six Nations Champion Ben Foden. The MLR’s premier signing this past offseason will make his debut north of the border on Sunday afternoon. Foden will be joined by wingers Connor Wallace-Sims and Mike St. Claire which will create a fantastic matchup with Mieres, Leivas, and Moor. The big matchup of the day will be on the front row. James Rotchford, Dylan Fawsitt, and Paddy Ryan will counter Brouwer, Quattrin, and, Mitchell. John Quill, the man that broke the Arrows hearts in the last game, will start at flanker.
3 Things to Watch
The scum has developed into one of the strengths of the Arrows game. The Arrows have been able to draw numerous penalties from the scrum and have successfully turned those penalties into points. The performance of the scrum has been outstanding in recent weeks and obliterated Glendale in their last time out. The Arrows will look to repeat that dominant performance this weekend against RUNY. Much like the Arrows, the RUNY offense largely starts with the forwards. RUNY has a solid front row featuring James Rotchford, Dylan Fawsitt, and Paddy Ryan and it should be a great matchup. However, with Brouwer, Quattrin, and Mitchell up front, the Arrows should come away with a win in this matchup. Morgan Mitchell has developed into one of MLR’s elite props. His ball carrying ability is something no prop in the league can match. His scrummaging is also outstanding. The Arrows draw a lot of penalties from the scrum and a big reason for that is because of Mitchell has been dominating looseheads. The scrum will be a big matchup in this game. Dan Moor has been favouring the scrum after penalties quite often in the last few weeks. If they are able to establish their dominance early, I would expect more of the same this week. If RUNY struggles it will be a long day for them.
In their previous meeting, RUNY did a lot of damage in the maul. It has been a trend that has continued throughout this season. Hooker Dylan Fawsitt leads the team in tries with 12. That also puts him in a tie with NOLA’s Tristan Blewett for 2nd in the league. Only John Ryberg has more. Fawsitt has 12 tries largely because he is the man at the back of the RUNY maul when RUNY makes a push for the line. The Arrows struggled with this in the last meeting with RUNY. However, as I said in the intro, the Arrows are a different team now than they were last time they matched up with RUNY. The Arrows maul defense is significantly better. The forward pack has not just been dominant in the scrum but in all aspects of the game. The Arrows were perfect in the lineout last week and that is a trend they hope to continue moving forward. A key part in stopping the RUNY maul may be to ensure they don’t get the ball to begin with. Peter Milazzo has been a beast in the lineouts all season and sits 2nd in the league in lineout steals. If he can get his hands on a few Fawsitt throws, the Arrows can stop the maul before it even happens.
Arrows Need to Stay Aggressive
In their first home game of the season, the Arrows were defeated by the NOLA Gold in a close game. Since then, the Arrows have been treating every game as a must-win game. And they have won every single one of them. During that stretch, the Arrows have adopted an aggressive style of play. Winning every game wasn’t necessarily enough. The Arrows needed bonus points to move up the standings.
Ultimately, the Arrows accumulated 13 bonus points, which made up the extra win RUNY had in the standings. The Arrows now find themselves with a shot at 1st overall and/or home-field advantage in the Championship Series. As the Arrows chanced down the playoff spot, they became very aggressive when the referee would award them a penalty. Malcolm kicked for touch far more often than he kicked for points. Once again, the bonus point is important. One point in the standings could mean the difference between a playoff game at Lamport Stadium or not. For this reason, I would love to see the Arrows stay aggressive early in the game. The Arrows have been very successful in converting their penalties into tries instead of opting for the points. If the forward pack is as dominant as they have been in recent weeks, going for a scrum or a lineout will be the better option early on. According to Moor, the key on offence will be “making the most of our opportunities by playing with confidence and executing chances as they arise”. Confidence will certainly be key to this aggressive style. When opting for the corner or a scrum instead of taking the points, you need confidence in knowing that you will score a try. Then you need to execute. The aggressive style has played off for the Arrows and there is no reason to stop now in the biggest game of the season.
However, as the game goes on this strategy should be adjusted as needed. If awarded a penalty in the middle of the pitch allows Malcolm to make it a 2-possession game with under 10 minutes left, do it. They showed in the San Diego game, that they are great at selecting their spots to go for points. They will still need to do that here. As the game evolves, so do the coaching strategies. The Arrows have been successful with their aggressive style and I would like to see that continue into the biggest game of the year.
Dan Moor believes that the Arrows have had an excellent week of preparation for this pivotal match. “It’s been a great week of preparation and I think the team can take lots of confidence into the game based on how we have physically and mentally prepared. The guys have been switched on and came to work all week.” This is easily the biggest MLR game of the year. The Toronto Arrows and RUNY are deadlocked in the standings and have everything to play for on Sunday afternoon. One of these clubs will be onto the Championship Series. One of these clubs will leave their fate in the hands of the Sand Diego Legion. It’s a massive matchup that is a must watch.
You can catch the game at Lamport Stadium at 1pm. Again, this game starts at 1pm. If you can’t make it to Lamport Stadium, cancel whatever it is you are doing. It’s not as good as getting to Lamport for this epic clash. If you really can’t make it because the fate of the world hangs in the balance of that other thing you are stuck at, Game TV and Facebook Watch are for you.