The defending champion Seattle Seawolves (8-3-0) travel north of the border for the first time to take on the Toronto Arrows (5-5-0). The Arrows are coming off of their first victory on home soil after defeating the Houston SaberCats 35-21 last week. A few hours later Seattle edge out the first overall NOLA Gold in what was one of the most entertaining games of the 2019 MLR season.
Prior to the match, the focus will be on Canadian National team hooker Ray Barkwill. Barkwill has been a mainstay on the Canadian roster for the past 7 years. Earlier this year, Barkwill announced his retirement due to injury. Barkwill was a member of the Ontario Blues and Seattle Seawolves over the course of his career. Barkwill has signed a one-day contract to allow him to retire as an Arrow. Barkwill will be honoured by his clubs prior to the opening kickoff of the match.
This is a massive match for both teams. The Toronto Arrows currently sit 6th overall and 9 points back of 4th Rugby United New York for the final playoff spot. The Arrows can ill-afford to lose another game and need to start to string together some wins. They have not won back-to-back games all season and that is a trend that needs to stop on Sunday. The Arrows can absolutely make the playoffs, however, another loss and their window begins to look a lot smaller. This is a big matchup for Seattle too. A number of their players are Canadian and will be playing their first professional game in their home country. Nakai Penny, Phil Mack, and Brock Staller (the league’s leading scorer) will all start for Seattle on Sunday. Additionally, former Ontario Arrow Djustice Sears-Duru will be a reserve prop. From the perspective of the team as a whole, it is a chance to put some separation between themselves and teams like the other teams hunting for that final playoff spot. Seattle is just 4 points behind NOLA for first overall in the league. However, they are also 4 points away from being out of the playoffs. Every game at this time of the year is massive and Arrows vs Seawolves will be no different.
Silverthorn and co. have made a few changes to the lineup following last week’s victory over the Houston SaberCats. In the pack, Morgan Mitchell finds himself in the number 3 jersey again and Cole Keith is in the reserves. Paul Ciulini returns to the lineup. John Moonlight has his firefighting duties to attend to this weekend so Kolby Francis and Tom van Horne will be on the bench. Andrew Ferguson returns to the starting scrumhalf position with Jamie Mackenzie as his backup. Spencer Jones returns to centre which slides Dan Moor back to the wing. The Los Teros duo Leandro Leivas Gaston Mieres will don the 14 and 15 jerseys. Leivas had a great outing against Houston last week and Mieres is returning following a minor foot injury. As a result, Theo Sauder will once again be in the reserves. The other back reserve is Patrick Parfrey who could be making his MLR debut this Sunday. Parfrey has earned 27 caps for Canada, most recently playing at the ARC. Parfrey is capable of playing flyhalf, centre, and fullback which makes him an incredibly versatile option to come off the bench. The Arrows backline is already incredibly deep and Parfrey just adds to that depth. Unfortunately, Parfrey’s inclusion does mean that someone has to sit and Avery Oitomen is out of the lineup this week.
The Seattle Seawolves come into Toronto riding a high following a great victory over the NOLA Gold last week. The team is playing well and have rattled off 3 straight victories. As active as the rumor mill was this week, Samu Manoa will not be making his MLR debut against the Arrows. Many of their Canadian player’s will be major factors in this game. Staller and Mack continue to be two of the premier player’s in the league and Penny has been a force in the back row. Ben Cima is out of the lineup and Mack’s usual understudy JP Smith will be starting at flyhalf. This likely means that Mack will see the pitch in all 80 minutes of this game. Flyhalf Scott Dean is in the 21 jersey which further supports this idea. The scrum will be quite the battle in this game. The Arrows’ front row of Brouwer, Quattrin, and Mitchell will be countered by Kellen Gordon, Stephan Coetzee, and Tim Metcher. Both Suniula brothers start at centre. One thing to look out for in this lineup is Eric Duechle coming off the bench. He frequently starts games as well, but when he is in the reserves brings plenty of energy to the Seawolves.
3 Things to Watch
Although this may not technically be a part of the 80 minutes on Sunday, Ray Barkwill being honoured prior to the match is a big reason to make your way to York Alumni Stadium Sunday afternoon. It is fitting that Barkwill will be honoured prior to this match. Barkwill was a key cog in the Ontario Blues’ dynastic dominance in the Canadian Rugby Championship winning 3 MacTier Cups. He has shared the pitch with a number of Arrows players representing the Blues or the national team. Barkwill was also a member of the Seattle Seawolves during the inaugural MLR season. Barkwill helped Seattle capture the first Americas Rugby Shield as the inaugural MLR Champions. Ultimately, there is no better game to honour the great career of Ray Barkwill than this one.
Barkwill is a native of Niagara Falls, Ontario and began his rugby career with the Niagara Wasps RFC. Early in his rugby career he led the Brock University Badgers to their first OUA Championship in 2007. Barkwill was named man of the match in the Final. Barkwill’s rugby career is a testament to hard work and perseverance. It was a long road that saw him don shirts for Brock University, Niagara Thunder, Ontario Blues, University of Western Australia, and Western Force ‘A’ among others but, Barkwill made his test debut for Canada on November 9, 2012, against Samoa at the age of 32. Since then, Barkwill has earned 56 caps for Canada and has scored 5 tries. Once Barkwill got a hold of the number 2 jersey, he never let it go. Barkwill became the clear option at hooker for the Canadian national team and it has remained that way for the past 6 years. In his last time out on the pitch, Barkwill helped Canada win the Repechage Tournament and earn a spot in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Unfortunately, during that same tournament, Barkwill suffered an injury to his brachial plexus (a series of nerves that run from the spine to the armpit). Barkwill officially announced his retirement in April. Now, Barkwill has signed a one-day contract with the Arrows in order to retire as a member of his local team. It should be an emotional day for him as he will be honoured in front of his family, friends, and fans as we celebrate the career of one of the best hookers in Canadian rugby history.
Over the past few weeks, I feel like I haven’t talked about Mike Sheppard enough. Sheppard has not only been one of the best Arrows lately but one of the best players in all of MLR. Sheppard has picked up the number 4 jersey in MLR’s First XV of the week 3 weeks in a row. This includes an MLR Player of the Week award for week 10 (when the Arrows defeated Utah 64-31). Sheppard has an incredible work rate and always puts in quite the defensive shift. He frequently has tackles that draw immediate reactions from the crowd and seldom misses. Sheppard has been outstanding in defense the past few games. Whether it is making a big tackle or creating a turnover, Sheppard always finds himself in the middle of the Arrows biggest defensive plays. Offensively, he has been a powerful ball carrier all season and has been finding ways to break through defensive lines for big gains. Sheppard has 3 tries this year including a try in last week’s win over Houston. Sheppard’s try was at an incredibly key point in the game. His try (and du Toit’s conversion after) put the Arrows up 28-21 just 8 minutes after Houston finished erasing a 21-point lead. Sheppard’s try put the Arrows in front again and they never looked back. As I am about to explain in the final Thing to Watch, this is a huge game for the Toronto Arrows. It the biggest games, the best players are usually the ones that decided it. I expect Mike Sheppard to have a big role to play on Sunday afternoon.
This is the biggest game of the Toronto Arrows season. I will be saying this about every game for the rest of the year as well. The Arrows have 6 games remaining in the 2019 MLR season. Currently, they have a 5-5-0 record and have amassed 9 bonus points for a total of 29 points. They are sitting 6th overall and are 9 points back of Rugby United New York for the final playoff spot. Every game for the remainder of the season is a must win game for the Arrows. In order for the Arrows to make the playoffs, they have to start stringing together wins and they also need to find a way to defeat the teams ahead of them in the standings. The 5 teams ahead of the Arrows right now are NOLA, San Diego, Seattle, RUNY, and Glendale. So far this season the Toronto Arrows are 1-5-0 against those teams. The lone win came against San Diego when Oitomen led the charge on an impressive Arrows comeback. In order to make the playoffs, the Arrows must start to rack up some wins against these teams. However, don’t necessarily be fooled by their record. The Arrows have played well against the league’s top teams and are certainly capable of defeating them. They don’t get outplayed very often and have picked up a bonus point in all but one of those losses. Many of those games were incredibly tight with the Arrows losing on scoring plays within the closing minute. However, if the Arrows are going to make the playoffs, they need to start closing out these games. 8-8-0 will not be good enough to make the playoffs. This is the game to string together 2 wins in a row for the first time all season. It is also the game to prove you can close out a game against the teams near the top of the table.
This is the day where the Arrows playoff hunt truly begins. An Arrows victory over the defending champions will give them plenty of momentum going forward. Lucas Rumball, Dan Moor, Mike Sheppard, Morgan Mitchell, Peter Milazzo, Sam Malcolm and everyone else in a blue jersey will need to have big games on Sunday and every game from here on out.
You can catch the ceremony honouring Ray Barkwill’s career and this massive tilt at York Alumni Stadium at 1pm on Sunday Afternoon. If you can’t make it to the game, change your plans and come anyway! However, if you really are stuck it’s on Game TV and Facebook Watch.