The Toronto Arrows (6-5-0) will play their first game at Lamport Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Arrows will open up their 2nd home with a visit from MLR’s top team, the San Diego Legion (9-2-1). The Arrows are riding high following an incredible performance against the defending champions last week. The Arrows played their best defensive game of the year and the 2nd half was their best 40 minutes of rugby all season. Seattle struggled to get any offense going as Mike Sheppard, Marcello Wainwright, and Rob Brouwer was locked in defensively. Dan Moor had the highlight reel try that put the game out of reach in the final 10 minutes. The Arrows won back-to-back games for the first time all year. They will look to make it 3 in a row against San Diego. However, it will not be an easy task. The San Diego Legion has been on fire lately. They have won 5 games in a row and are unbeaten in their last 6. In 3 of those games, they have scored over 40 points and they haven’t allowed more than 20 points in 4 straight games.
The Legion has a very strong defense and has allowed the least points against this year. With weapons like Mikey Te’o and Nate Augspurger, the San Diego Legion are also one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They a loaded with dynamic runners that always seem to find a way to get behind defenses. It is a daunting task. However, the Arrows have done it before. The Toronto Arrows are the last team to earn a victory against San Diego. In that game, Avery Oitomen led the charge on an impressive 2nd half comeback. The Legion has an offense that is firing on all cylinders. The Arrows have shown that they can score as well as anyone in the league. The Legion has one of the top defenses in MLR. The Arrows showed how dominant their defense can be against Seattle last week. Based on the other matchups around MLR this weekend, Arrows vs Legion is clearly the game of the week. Once, again this game will have major implications on the playoff race. NOLA, Glendale, and RUNY are all up against the bottom 3 teams this week. Barring any upsets, Toronto will need to win this game to keep pace.
Lucas Rumball injured his knee in the match against Seattle last week. Unfortunately, it looks like that injury will be keeping him out of the lineup this week. He will be replaced by John Moonlight. Chris Silver thorn has made 3 additional changes to the lineup. Jamie Mackenzie will start at scrumhalf with Andrew Ferguson in the reserves. Leandro Leivas finds himself out of the lineup this week. Gaston Mieres shifts from fullback to Leivas’ spot on the wing. As a result, Theo Sauder will be starting at fullback and Avery Oitomen will be among the reserves.
The San Diego Legion boasts a very strong lineup indicative of being the first-place team. Fijian Olympic Gold Medalist Jasa Veremalua is typically found in the backs. However, in recent weeks the Legion he has been lining up at lock. Veremalua has exceptional offloading ability and blazing speed. This provides the Legion with a unique look in the pack. They have a strong pack that also features former Super Rugby prop Paddy Ryan, Keni Nasoqeqe, and Psalm Wooching who have all been outstanding in recent weeks. After missing the beginning of the year with an injury, Nate Augspurger has developed into one of MLR’s premier scrumhalves. The rest of the backs are constant scoring threats as well. Mikey Te’o has been one of the league’s top fullbacks all year and often leads the Legion attacks.
3 Things to Watch
The San Diego Legion are fast. Very fast. Their speed is part of what makes their offense so dangerous. They are able to create holes in defenses and utilize that speed to exploit them. An element of their game that makes them so fast is their offloading. No team in MLR offloads as well as the Legion. Their game against the Glendale Raptors two weeks ago, they had a few tries where they made a handful of offloads and never allowed the Raptors to get set on defense. Mikey Te’o leads their offense with plenty of explosiveness speed from the fullback position. His speed allows him to be creative on defense as well. When Te’o joins the defensive line, he can explode off of the line and often comes away with an interception or two. The Legion has a number of players that are capable of this as well. San Diego scores a lot of tries from interceptions followed by a few offloads. Their speed makes them a scoring threat from anywhere on the field and the Arrows defense will need to be on the top of their game.
In order to stop the Legion’s high-octane offense, the Arrows defense will need to put in another solid performance. Last week against Seattle they were spectacular. Seattle barely had any time in the Arrows end and did not look dangerous throughout the game. Sam Malcolm had an incredible game with the boot and was able to gain the Arrows plenty of territory. Mike Sheppard was at the forefront of the defensive performance and has been one of the best players in Major League Rugby over the past month. Sheppard has been awarded the number 4 jersey in the First XV 4 weeks in a row now. Sheppard has an incredible work rate and has been an absolute beast for the Arrows. Sheppard will need to put in a strong performance to beat this Legion side. Last week, the Arrows were able to get off the line quickly and make plenty of tackles behind the gain line. The Arrows were able to force Seattle to make plenty of mistakes. The biggest mistake was a Ryan Youngman dropped pass that Rob Brouwer pounced on leading to Moor’s try. Following last week’s game, Lucas Rumball said that the team felt comfortable in their defensive structure. He believes that will once again be key. Despite not being in the lineup Rumball added “I think we need to stick to our defensive fundamentals to stop SD’s potent attack. Staying out of the breakdown, and our discipline as a unit will be key”. The Arrows had an amazing defensive performance last week. They will need to be solid again against San Diego.
One of the more intriguing matchups in this game will be between the wingers and fullbacks. San Diego is starting Matyas, Kearns, and Te’o. The Arrows will counter with Moor, Mieres, and Sauder. Both sides feature incredibly dynamic players on the outside and this matchup will be vital for determining who leaves Lamport Stadium with a victory. The key to winning this matchup will be patience. “We’re going to have to be clinical in our skills and execution. As well as patient with the ball in hand” says, Moor. As mentioned earlier, San Diego is a team that is known for capitalizing on mistakes. They have may tries in the last two games by pouncing on their opponents’ errors. Te’o, Matyas, and Kearns all have an uncanny ability to come up with interceptions. “We have to be confident in holding possession and not forcing anything that will lead to errors” Moor added. Those errors are exactly what San Diego thrives on. However, as Moor mentioned patience is key. San Diego’s defence is great, but it is not perfect. If you are able to develop phases, their defense can break down. The Arrows need to be patient enough to not force anything, use as many phases as needed to break the Legion down. Once that is done Moor, Mieres, and Sauder will need to make sure they capitalize on those chances. This is exactly what the Arrows did to San Diego in their earlier meeting. The Arrows broke down the Legion defense with excellent ball retention at the breakdowns. On Oitomen’s first try in that game, the Arrows actually lose ground, but they remain patient and hold onto the ball. No one tries to force a play, despite the team moving backward. Eventually, they open up a hole and Oitomen is able to explode through it and run untouched for a try. Patience will be key. It might not look the best, especially if you are moving backward, but playing through a lot of phases does breakdown this Legion defense.
The Arrows need a full team effort to break down that defense and Moor, Mieres, Sauder (as well as Oitomen) need to be able to finish off these plays. They might not be given too many opportunities, so they have to capitalize. On the opposite side, they need to be able to shut down Te’o Matyas, and Kearns. They have a knack to find space and are capable of scoring from anywhere on the pitch. They (and the rest of the Arrows) will also need to be aware of where their support is because they will offload whenever remotely possible.
You can catch the game at the Arrows new home, Lamport Stadium, at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. If you can’t make it to the game, you can tune in on Facebook Watch or Game TV.