Arrows Storm Into Championship Series
Source: @joseromelo via @TorontoArrows
With under 5 minutes to play, the Toronto Arrows trailed Rugby United New York 20-19. The Arrows had a lineout 10m inside RUNY territory. Steven Ng’s throw found the safe hands of Peter Milazzo and the Arrows began working their way up the field. There was plenty of great work from the forwards as they advanced towards RUNY’s tryline. They worked their way to 5m out and right in the middle of the pitch. Sam Malcolm dropped back and Andrew Ferguson fired him a pass. From about 15m out Sam Malcolm’s boot would connect on a dropkick. The Arrows’ record crowd of 3,218 roared as they watch the ball sail between the posts. Malcolm’s drop goal would give the Arrows a 22-20 lead with just 3 minutes to play and they would close out the victory from there. Sam Malcolm’s drop goal would send the Arrows to the MLR Championship Series! Following the game, Dan Moor was speaking of Malcolm’s performance and the play that clinched a playoff spot for the Arrows “He’s got the heart of a lion, but we also know he’s got ice in his veins now”.
The match did not get off to the greatest start for the Arrows as RUNY controlled the play early on. RUNY had a few line breaks in the opening minutes. Leandro Leivas and Sam Malcolm stopped the early scoring threat by hitting Mike St. Claire into touch. RUNY then built up some phases and continued to pressure the Arrows. RUNY would then work the ball down the backline and St. Claire would not be stopped the second time. St. Claire opened the scoring just 5 minutes in. Cathal Marsh’s conversion gave RUNY an early 7-0 lead. RUNY would continue to control the play for the next few minutes, but the Arrows would soon begin fighting back. In the 9th minute, RUNY had the feed at a scrum. The Arrows pack obliterated RUNY and earned a penalty against the feed. The Arrows would lose the ensuing lineout, but as Connor Wallace-Sims’ clearance kick bounces, Moor and Gaston Mieres orchestrated a counter attack. The Arrows backs found space as the ball travels through the hands of Mieres, Moor, Leandro Leivas, and Spencer Jones. Jones would make a dash for the line. He would be tackled just shy and his offload to Jamie Mackenzie would be forward. However, the Arrows would keep the pressure on. The Arrows would run a set piece play off a lineout. Leivas would run the width of the field to take a pass from Jones. Leivas would then send Moor a beautiful offload as he was dragged to the ground. Moor would finish it off in the corner to cut the lead to 7-5. The Arrows would strike again a few minutes later as Mackenzie perfectly placed a long flat pass to an oncoming Jones who sliced right through the RUNY defense for the Arrows 2nd try and the Arrows were up 12-7 at the hydration break. After a hectic opening 20minutes that saw 3 tries, the next 20 minutes would be incredibly hard fought. The Arrows defense put in a solid stretch of play as they shut down RUNY’s attacking opportunities. RUNY’s lineout was struggling as the Arrows came away with a few lineout steals and if it wasn’t stolen, it was not executed cleanly. Ultimately, RUNY was never able to set up their maul that they love to use as a result of their inability to connect on the lineout. RUNY would get one more really good scoring chance late in the half, but Mieres and Jones would force St. Claire to knock on at the line.
The 2nd half would also start with a RUNY try. John Quill would pick off a pass from Guiseppe du Toit intended for Moor and jog in for the try. Marsh’s conversion would give RUNY the narrow 14-12 lead. Much like the first half, the opening 9 minutes were controlled by RUNY. Marsh would add a penalty in the 49th minute to increase the RUNY lead. Both sides’ defence would tighten up and much of the 2nd half was played toward the middle of the pitch. The Arrows were struggling to crack the RUNY defense who began to earn a few penalties at the breakdown. After one of those penalties, the RUNY scrum would obliterate an Arrows scrum. The cross-filed kick intended for Wallace-Sims would be stopped but the referee was playing advantage. Marsh would slot his 2nd penalty of the game and turn it into a 2-possession game with a 20-12 lead. Again, just like the first half, the Arrows would come back. Andrew Ferguson would catch the RUNY defense napping and took a quick tap from a penalty. Ferguson would dive across the line and Malcolm’s conversion would bring the Arrows to within 1. The Arrows defence wouldn’t give up another chance. Following a scrum, Parfrey sent a grubber kick through to Moor on the wing. Moor was able to get deep into RUNY territory. Leivas and Moonlight would take it right down to the line but Ben Foden made a try-saving tackle on Moonlight. The Arrows tried to get the extra few centimetres to cross the line, RUNY would force a knock-on on the goal line. A few scrum resets would begin to eat away at the clock. The Arrows would then get a lineout 10m into RUNY territory. The lineout was well executed as Ng’s throw found Milazzo who take the ball straight to ground. The Arrows would begin to work through some phases as they marched toward RUNY’s ingoal. The Arrows got big carries from Sheppard, Wainwright, Ng, and Keith who were all well supported by Brouwer, Campbell, and Milazzo in the rucks. The forwards worked their way into the middle of the pitch, Malcolm dropped back and then this…
“We trained that during the week in case we got into that situation” said Malcolm of his game-winning drop goal. “I’m really proud of the boys to get us into that position. The forwards worked really hard to slow it down and work towards the posts. It made it an easier task for me and then I was lucky enough that I struck it well and it went through the sticks”. The Arrows would not allow RUNY to regain possession as they closed out the game. Ferguson would be the one to kick the ball into touch as the Arrows clinched their spot in the MLR playoffs!
After the match, the focus turned toward the heroes of the match such as Sam Malcolm and try scorers Dan Moor, Spencer Jones, and Andrew Ferguson. However, those players (and others) made sure to highlight the exceptional performance of the coaching staff to get them prepared for this game. Every player I spoke with following the game mentioned the coaching staff and the hard work they put in at training this week as a key to victory. “This is where you tip your hat to the coaching staff” said Moor after the game. When asked about his try and what he saw leading up to the play Jones said “Honestly, we’ve been training that the whole season and we’ve never actually tried it. I don’t think any team is prepared for it. The opportunity presented itself and one of the other boys called it and I ran the line”. Guiseppe du Toit was the one that called for the play that the Arrows have been working on all year and were able to surprise the RUNY defense with. The biggest play of the game was also something that the Arrows have worked on in training. “We really train for that phase of the match” exclaimed Leivas. However, the drop goal specifically has not been featured at training all year. According to Moor “Pete Smith and Cory Hector, our attack coaches, installed a drop goal about 3 weeks ago”. Moor would add “It just shows when you have good coaching like that and are prepared when that opportunity arises we’re actually able to execute and take advantage.” All of the Arrows players I spoke with following the game, had something positive to say about the Arrows’ training sessions this week and how effectively the coaching staff prepared them for this pivotal match. Mark Winokur, Chris Silverthorn, Cory Hector, Pete Smith, Aaron Carpenter, Rodin Lozada, Sean Harrison, Jeff Watson, Perry Fan and the rest of the Arrows staff deserve plenty of credit for this team’s terrific run toward the postseason.
The victory caps off a remarkable run for the Toronto Arrows. After starting the season 3-4-0, the Arrows have gone 8-1-0 and have now tied the MLR record for longest winning streak at 7 games. It has been a long road for the Arrows who had to start the year with an 8-game road trip before turning Toronto into a fortress and a very challenging place to come play. After the match, the players celebrated with family, friends, and fans on the pitch and many of them couldn’t hide the excitement of playoff rugby. “It’s really exciting! It’s been a long journey for us. A lot of sacrifices for the team” said Mieres. “We’re really excited”, “we’re stoked”, “it’s really special”, “it feels amazing” was how du Toit, Jones, Malcolm, and Moor described their emotions following the match. “It’s an achievement in itself. It was our goal to make the playoffs at the start of the season” said Malcom, who added, “I’m just so proud of the boys and the effort they put out there today”.
Elsewhere in the league, the San Diego Legion defeated NOLA Gold 22-10 and Seattle Seawolves defeated Austin Elite 38-26. Ultimately, the Toronto Arrows have finished 3rd overall in the MLR standings and will play the Seattle Seawolves in the first round of the MLR Championship Series. The Arrows and Seawolves split the season series 1-1. Specific kickoff time and location of the match are yet to be confirmed by MLR.