Source: Neil Davidson / THE CANADIAN PRESS
In front of a sold-out crowd of 3081, the Toronto Arrows dropped another heartbreaker to the NOLA Gold. The Arrows defense was strong throughout the game but Ignacio Dotti found a way to break through and picked up a try on the final play of the game. The Arrows got off to a great start with Spencer Jones setting up Dan Moor for the first Arrows try on Canadian soil. A penalty try (created by Tim Maupin), JP Eloff, and Tristan Blewett answered back quickly and the Gold found themselves up 21-7 after 13 minutes. The Arrows would climb back into the game thanks to two tries from Gaston Mieres and NOLA led 28-19 at halftime. The Arrows were the better team in the 2nd half and were able to take the lead thanks to tries from Andrew Ferguson and Morgan Mitchell. Mitchell’s was his first of the season and gave the Arrows a 31-28 lead in the 53rd minute. Scoring slowed down as the Arrows defense slowly took over the game. Mike Sheppard led the way with a number of bone-jarring hits that brought the crowd to their feet. Unfortunately, the perfect ending to the home opener was not to be. Despite the Arrows’ impressive defensive stand, Ignacio Dotti was able to sneak through and pick up the game-winning try with seconds left on the clock giving NOLA the victory in the first MLR game in Canada.
“We just made too many execution errors, too many skill errors in the first half and that’s what hurt us” said Dan Moor following the game.
The Arrows did have plenty of chances to score in that opening half. However, there were a few knock-ons, a few errant passes, and a few poor decisions that saw those opportunities squandered. This accompanied by a slow start that saw NOLA score 3 tries in the opening 13 minutes of the game put the Arrows in a hole early on. However, soon after the Arrows began to slowly take control of the game. “We were able to dig deep. Go back to our system. We always say ‘trust the system’” centre Giuseppe du Toit said when asked about some of the positives the club can take from this game. The system certainly worked as the Arrows were able to make those corrections and take the lead on Mitchell’s try in the 53rd minute. Moor also believes that there is plenty of positives to take from the game. Moor exclaimed that “the defense was fantastic” and he is absolutely right.
For most of the 2nd half, NOLA was going absolutely nowhere with the ball in hand. The Arrows did a great job being quick off the line and made a number of tackles behind the gain line. Sheppard was outstanding in this regard. His thunderous hits often drew loud reactions from the 3081 fans in attendance. Every time NOLA had the ball, Sheppard was right there to meet them. Spencer Jones also made a number of key tackles that helped prevent NOLA from gaining any significant ground. Even leading up to what was ultimately the game-winning try, the Arrows defense was great. The only reason that NOLA was able to move up the field was because of penalties called against the Arrows. There were some questionable calls made throughout this game and NOLA’s final drive was no exception. However, as Moor added, “we gotta try to play rugby to the point where the margin at the end, you can’t lose on the last play.” Referees are not going to be perfect every night so sometimes you need to find a way to take the ref out of the game. This does come back to some of those execution errors in the first half that may have led to Arrows tries or prevented a NOLA try. That way when Mike Sheppard and this defense took over, they would have been able to close out the game.
Sam Malcolm had an eventful game and I think it gave us a chance to learn a little bit more about him as a player. Early in the first half, Malcolm sent out a wide pass to Gaston Mieres. That pass was picked off by Tristan Blewett who ran it back for the try. However, Malcolm did not let the error phase him and he illustrated a lot of confidence in his game in the events following Blewett’s interception. Just over 10 minutes later, Malcolm tossed a beautiful pass just over the outstretched arms of Shawn Riley and JP Eloff to connect with Gaston Mieres for the Arrows 2nd try of the match. Malcolm’s pass skipped over Jones and Oitomen to find Mieres. I love that despite being picked off by Blewett earlier in the match, Malcolm still had the confidence in his game to make that pass. Perhaps that pass was dangerous with Riley and Eloff waiting there. However, that is exactly what made this try the nicest try of the match. It’s great to see that Malcolm was not phased by the earlier play and knew he had the skill to execute that pass.
Despite the loss, this game meant a lot more than what the scoreboard said after 80 minutes. This game marked the first professional rugby union game played in Canada and it was another great step forward for Canadian rugby. For starters, the game was a sellout. There were 1500 tickets sold before the box office opened at York Alumni Stadium. The box office sold another 1581 tickets to bring the total to 3081. This puts the Arrows 2nd in MLR behind only Seattle’s attendance. The 3081 made their presence felt early as York Alumni Stadium quickly sold out of beer. However, completely draining a stadium’s beer supply is a very Canadian rugby fan thing to do.
The sold-out crowd also provided an unreal atmosphere for all the players involved. Right from the beginning, the Arrows players acknowledged how great the crowd was. “Just singing the anthem and we’re hearing everybody singing back to us is pretty special,” du Toit said about experiencing the home opener. “It means a lot” Moor said in response to the sold-out crowd. He would add “The support up to this point of the season when we were on the road was fantastic and Toronto Arrows fans in Toronto really showed their support again today.” The Arrows players were clearly appreciative of the crowd. The crowd was unbelievable for the home opener. They were loud and vocal throughout the match and some fans began experimenting with different chants. The crowd mixed it up a bit from “Let’s Go Arrows”, “Go Arrows Go”, to an Argonauts inspired “ARRRROOOOWSS”. The crowd helped create a phenomenal atmosphere and it was not lost on the Arrows or the Gold players. “They have a great atmosphere here and it’s gonna help them along the way. They got 8 games at home and I think that 16th man is going to be amazing for them” said NOLA captain Eric Howard, who was playing his first professional game in his home country as well. The atmosphere was truly special and it continued well after the game ended as players from both sides stuck around to chat with family, friends, and fans either on the pitch or the bar afterwards.
If you would like to be a part of the amazing atmosphere, the Arrows will take on Austin Elite Rugby next Sunday at 2pm. Hopefully, a few zeros will be added to the beer orders by then.