Arrows Add Higgins and Welcome Back Sheppard and Sheridan
Source: Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / Irish Rugby
The Toronto Arrows have released their latest group of signings for the 2021 season. The group features two returning players in lock Mike Sheppard and winger John Sheridan as well as a new scrumhalf in Jason Higgins.
Sheppard’s hard-nosed playing style has made him a fan favourite in Toronto. He has been a key component to the Arrows leadership group and captained the club back in the Ontario Arrows days. Sheppard proved to be one of the best locks in MLR in the 2019 season. He racked up 175 carries, 789m, 203 tackles, and 5 tries on route to being named to the 2019 All MLR 1st XV. Sheppard’s 2020 got off to an impressive start.
Sheppard posted 26 carries for 110m, 44 ruck/maul arrivals, and 20 tackles with a career completion rate of 86% over the first two games of the season. In the 80th minute against Houston, Sheppard was given a red card for a high tackle on Tim Stanfill. That hit resulted in a 3-game suspension. Sheppard was due to return to the Arrows lineup against Rugby United New York, but COVID-19 resulted in the cancellation of the season. Ultimately, as a result of the suspension, Sheppard’s season ended more pre-maturely than most.
Sheppard is known for his thunderous tackles and powerful carries. He led the Arrows with 14 carries against Houston in 2020. He plays a key role in the lineout (despite not necessarily being in it). Sheppard is typically looked to as the first ball carrier out of the lineout. Sheppard is able to quickly put the Arrows on the front foot and in a solid attacking position. He is also capable of sending the ball through the hands, as he did to set up Guiseppe du Toit’s try during the Houston match.
Finding himself in the engine alongside Paul Ciulini, Sheppard has been a major reason for the Arrows’ dominance at the scrum. Sheppard and Ciulini will once again wear the 4 and 5 jerseys in 2021 with Kolby Francis or rookie Adrian Wadden providing relief off the bench.
Sheridan is a depth player for the Arrows, making eight appearances over his two seasons with the club. As a winger, his position is loaded with talents such as Gastón Mieres, Leandro Leivas, and Manuel Montero (or Dan Moor, Avery Oitomen and Kainoa Lloyd in past seasons). The Arrows depth at wing has made it difficult for Sheridan to get consistent playing time.
However, players like Sheridan are exactly why I constantly say the Arrows are the deepest team in MLR. When Mieres and Leivas had to sit out against Houston due to injuries, Sheridan stepped up in a massive way. Sheridan had two huge linebreaks and a team-leading 107m carried (15.2m/carry) over his 67 minutes. Sheridan has always been able to step up when needed during his time with the Arrows.
In his eight appearances, he has racked up 256m on 25 carries (10.24m/carry) and scored two tries. If everyone is healthy, Sheridan will likely struggle for playing time. However, in the event of an injury, Arrows fans should rest assured that Sheridan will be able to step up and make a big impact on the game.
Higgins’ route to Toronto is an interesting one. A product of the Munster age-grade system, Higgins had signed with RUNY for the 2020 season. However, he was unable to secure a work visa and did not appear for RUNY in the abbreviated 2020 season. It appears RUNY did not like the odds of Higgins being able to secure a visa for 2021.
According to Mark Winokur, as stated in the Arrows’ press release, RUNY actually informed the Arrows that Higgins is a Canadian citizen. A gesture that Winokur called “a very classy move”. Higgins will be classified as a domestic player and is eligible for the Canadian national team.
Higgins is a scrumhalf originally from Cork, Ireland. Higgins played for Christian Brothers College before moving on to Muster’s U20 side. Higgins would move up to Munster ‘A’ where he won their Player of the Year Award in 2014. Higgins rejoined his youth club Cork Constitution in 2015 where he remained for five years.
During that time Higgins led Cork Constitution to two All-Ireland League Championships in 2017 and 2019. Higgins also raised the Munster Senior Cup with Cork on four occasions in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019.
Higgins is expected to compete for the 9 jersey alongside Andrew Ferguson and (presumably) Jamie Mackenzie. Once again, the addition of Higgins re-enforces the fact that the Arrows are the deepest team in MLR. The idea that one of Ferguson, Mackenzie, or Higgins will have to sit out every game is a situation that many MLR teams would dream to have.
The positional battle at training camp will be fascinating. For added intrigue, as Higgins is Canadian eligible, it will be very interesting to see how he stacks up against two capped scrumhalves. Higgins will be looking to make an impression on the Arrows but the possibility of entering the Canadian squad may be there too.
The signings of Mike Sheppard, John Sheridan, and Jason Higgins brings the official Arrows 2021 squad up to 29 players: