Arrows VS NOLA Preview
It’s finally here everyone! The Toronto Arrows (4-4-0) take on the NOLA Gold (6-2-0) in their home opener! The match will mark the first professional club rugby union match played in Canada. The historic occasion will mark the not only mark the first pro game in Canada, but the beginning of the Arrows 8 game homestand to finish off the 2019 MLR season. The Arrows have put themselves in great shape heading into the homestand. A record-setting victory over the Utah Warriors brought the Arrows back home with a 4-4-0 record. They currently sit 6th overall with 22 points and 5 points back of the Seattle Seawolves for the final playoff spot. That victory has given the Arrows plenty of confidence in their current playing form.
There has been a lot of talk in the Arrows camp about running the table at home. Now is the time to prove that they can do exactly that. Running the table starts on Sunday as they welcome the NOLA Gold to York Alumni Stadium. In order to run the table, the Arrows have to do something that they have failed to do all year; win 2 games in a row. It won’t be an easy task. The NOLA Gold currently sit at the top of the MLR table. Their offensive ability is insane. The Gold have scored a league-leading 279 points and a league-leading 39 tries while averaging 35 points per game. Centre Tristan Blewett has been leading the way. He is tied with Avery Oitomen for the league lead at 6 tries. NOLA plays an incredibly fast pace style of rugby. They constantly keep the ball moving and often find holes in defenses to explode through. They can score tries from nearly everywhere on the field. However, they are relatively average on defense. NOLA has allowed the 4th most points in MLR this year. NOLA may score 35 points on you, but you can just as easily score 35 points on them. Essentially, NOLA plays rugby like a hockey team from the 1980s. Of course, Toronto is perfectly capable of scoring tries as well. The Arrows are tied with the Glendale Raptors for 2nd in the league with 240 points for. They also find themselves just ahead of NOLA with 214 points against (5th most in the league).
These two teams met in the first MLR game of the year. NOLA took home the victory in that one, defeating the Arrows 36-31. Both teams were able to showcase their offensive abilities as they each picked up the try bonus. I would expect more of the same when the two clubs clash on Sunday afternoon. NOLA has struggled a bit in their last few games. They needed a last-minute try from Michael Baska in order to avoid being Austin’s first scalp of the year. They followed up that performance with a narrow loss to the Glendale Raptors. The Arrows will be looking to hand them 2 losses in a row for the first time this season. Arrows captain Dan Moor understands what the NOLA Gold are capable of but adds that “it’s a test our team is relishing and have been working all week to put in a good performance.”.
Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Following the Arrows, record-setting victory over Utah last week, Mark Winokur and Chris Silverthorn have made very little changes to the lineup. Andrew Quattrin has been cleared by the Arrow’s medical staff so he returns to the number 2 jersey. Steven Ng, who had a great game in Quattrin’s absence, will be coming off the bench again. Jack Nay was a last-second removal from the lineup against Utah. He is once again out of the lineup this week. As a result, Lucas Rumball shifts to eightman. Replacing Nay in the lineup will be the legendary John Moonlight who slides into Rumball’s previous position at flanker. Moonlight is with the Arrows on a part-time basis as he continues to work as a firefighter. He has only played 1 game for the Arrows this year. That game was the season opener against NOLA and Moonlight scored the first ever try in Arrows history. It’s really cool to see that Moonlight will be playing in the first professional rugby union game in Canada.
The NOLA Gold are sitting at the top of the table and one look at their roster can help illustrate why. As mentioned in the intro, Tristan Blewett is tied for the league lead in tries. However, the dynamic South African is just the tip of the iceberg. Eric Howard has 5 tries himself and has added 5 try assists. JP Eloff has made a league-leading 27 conversions. Of course, part of that is because NOLA creates so many opportunities for him to kick conversions. Eloff currently sits at 85 points, just 3 shy of Sam Malcolm for first overall. On the defensive side of the ball, Zach Stryffeler leads all of the MLR with 124 tackles this season. The NOLA Gold find themselves with plenty of representation amongst the top of each statistical category as we hit the halfway point of the season. None of these stats even mention the contributions of Kyle Baillie, Cam Dolan, Con Foley, and Tim Maupin who have all been having terrific seasons. Two notable omissions are Nick Feakes and centre Taylor Howden who has 5 try assists and 3 tries so far this year. Regardless, NOLA is first in MLR for a reason and a lot of it has to do with the strength of this lineup.
3 Things to Watch
NOLA Canadian Contingent
This game will be a massive historical moment for Canadian rugby. It will mark the first-ever MLR game in Canada. Most of the Toronto Arrows squad is Canadian and will be able to experience the moment from the perspective of the home side. However, a number of the NOLA Gold’s key players are Canadian as well and will be experiencing this moment from the perspective of the opposition. Prop Hubert Buydens, hooker Eric Howard, and flanker Kyle Ballie will all be major factors in this game. As the loosehead prop, Buydens will be matched up with Morgan Mitchell in the scrum. Mitchell has been dominating in the scrum all season and frequently forces the opposing looseheads to take penalties. Mitchell also features a Juggernaut-esque running ability that can suck in multiple defenders and create a lot of room for the Arrows.
Buydens may have a tough task but if NOLA wants to win this game, he must limit Mitchell’s impact. Howard will once again serve as the NOLA Gold captain meaning both teams in the first MLR game in Canada will be captained by Canadians. That is just a really cool fact. Howard will be with Buydens on the front row as they battle the dominant Arrows scrum. Howard will throw the Gold’s lineout balls and try to avoid the ball-hawking Peter Milazzo as he looks to add to his league-leading lineout steal totals. However, Howard also finds himself at the back of NOLA’s lineout mauls. This has given him 5 tries on the year tying him with RUNY’s Dylan Fawsitt and James Denise for the league lead amongst forwards. Baillie was an integral part of Canada’s victory at the Repechage tournament. Baillie and Lucas Rumball were outstanding at the breakdowns in those games. It will be a lot of fun to see them go head to head as both the Arrows and Gold have excellent back rows.
In their first meeting of the season, a bulk of the NOLA offense came by attacking the Arrows wing. The Arrows have greatly improved on defense since that game. However, NOLA may still attempt to attack the Arrows out wide. If NOLA has watched some film from last week’s obliteration of the Utah Warriors, they may have seen a reason to go back. Don Pati and Tonata Lauti gave the Arrows fits at certain points in the game. This was especially noticeable during the Warriors 19-0 run between the 18th and 28th minutes. Chris Silverthorn’s staff have demonstrated their ability to help the team make adjustments before. Against Rugby United New York, the Arrows struggled in the lineouts and the mauls. The following match against Utah, it was one of the strengths of their game. The Arrows defensive schemes will need to be in peak form in order to stop NOLA. NOLA does possess some fantastic wingers and fullbacks like Eloff, Maupin, and Shawn Riley. Blewett often finds himself as the beneficiary of the NOLA Gold wide-open attack. NOLA is excellent at sucking in defenders which often will create space and the overlap for them to exploit. This ultimately gives NOLA the ability to score from anywhere on the pitch. So how do the Arrows stop the explosive NOLA offense? “In order to slow them down we have to starve them of possession and be clinical with ball in hand” said Moor. He adds that everyone on the Arrows is committed to a strong defensive game as a unit and they are all willing to put their bodies on the line in order to stop this NOLA offense.
The Arrows would love to starve NOLA of possession because their offense is just as good. Moor himself is part of a dynamic back 3 that also features Oitomen and Mieres with Lloyd and Sauder coming off the bench. By ensuring that the Arrows have the bulk of the possession, the Arrows’ offense could take over the game. The Arrows’ offense is just as dynamic as NOLA as they possess the top 2 highest producing offenses in MLR. This game will feature a lot of points. The difference in the match may very well come down to the team that is able to control possession of the ball.
Race for the Try Scoring Lead
This match will feature 2 of the top 3 leading try scorers in the league. Toronto’s Avery Oitomen and NOLA’s Tristan Blewett are both involved in a three-way tie for first overall with Glendale’s John Ryberg at 6 tries apiece. Oitomen and Blewett are both incredibly fast and dynamic players. Blewett has been exceptional all year at finding holes in the defense. He absolutely scorched the Houston SaberCats in a hattrick performance and could have added to it if he wasn’t forced to leave the game after Josua Vici caught him with a boot to the head. Oitomen has been a force all season. Playing on the wing he is often looked to by the Arrows to finish plays off and that’s exactly what he does. His blinding speed is incredibly challenging for defenders, especially if those defenders are caught flat-footed. Both of them will enter Sunday’s game tied at 6 tries. I highly doubt they will leave this game tied at 6 tries.
The big day is finally here. After an 8-game road trip to start the season, the Toronto Arrows will host the NOLA Gold in the first MLR game played north of the border. You can catch the game at 2pm on Sunday, April 7th on Game TV, Facebook Watch, or live at York University Alumni Stadium. However, I would thoroughly recommend heading to York Alumni Stadium. Moor says that “the team is ecstatic to be playing our first home game this weekend.” Many of the players are from Ontario and are relishing the opportunity to play in front of their family and friends for the first time. It should be a great game played between 2 offensively gifted teams. Moor knows the game will be “an exciting atmosphere for all involved” so make sure you get your tickets for the historic occasion.