Arrows vs San Diego Preview

The Toronto Arrows (2-3-0) are looking to bounce back from a snowy shutout defeat at the hands of the Glendale Raptors. The Arrows head to the west coast, where the San Diego Legion (4-1-0) are riding a 4 game winning streak into week 7. The Legion are currently Major League Rugby’s most in-form team and numerous analysts have the Legion sitting on top of their weekly power rankings. In reality, the Legion sit 2nd overall in the standings behind the NOLA Gold. Despite have identical 4-1-0 records, San Diego has only managed to muster up 2 bonus points so far this season leaving them 3 points back of NOLA.

On paper, this will be a difficult matchup for the Arrows. Through 5 games the San Diego Legion have only allowed 78 points, the least in MLR. The Arrows are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They’ve allowed a league-high 139 points (tied with NOLA). The Arrows are more than capable of scoring though. Despite being shut out, the Arrows still have the 3rd highest points for a total in MLR with 128. However, the Legion are not far behind with 123. The Legion play an incredibly high tempo style of rugby. They like to keep the ball moving and rarely give it up. The Legion trail only Glendale in average territory per game (57.2%). The Arrows have struggled with ball possession and controlling the territory, especially against Glendale last week. The Arrows average 40.2% territory, by far the worst in the league. The Arrows will need to figure out a way to take the ball out of the Legion’s hands and keep it in the offensive half if they want to win this game. Another interesting stat to note is the lineouts. Throughout the season, the Toronto Arrows have been struggling at the lineout. Execution has not been as clean as Chris Silverthorn would like. There have been plenty of lineouts lost on their own throws and a handful of uncontested lineouts on the defensive end. San Diego is the best in the league at lineouts. Psalm Wooching and Drew Gaffney are the primary targets for Dean Muir’s throws. Muir is incredibly accurate and Wooching and Gaffney often come down with the ball easily. Once the throw is complete there are plenty of powerful forwards to drive the maul such as Keni Nasoqeqe, Paddy Ryan, and Louis Stanfill. Ultimately, this game will be a great test for the Arrows.

San Diego is one of MLR’s best teams in 2019 and they play a completely different style of rugby to the Arrows. The Arrows are looking for a big bounce-back game and they have a massive opportunity to make a statement with a win in San Diego, but it will be tough.

Starting XV

Chris Silverthorn is giving everyone a chance to bounce back from that disappointing defeat to the Glendale Raptors. The lineup is mostly the same, however there are big changes. First, Guiseppe du Toit returns from his ARC duties and will be starting at inside centre. This shifts captain Dan Moor back to the wing and John Sheridan to the bench. Two of Moor’s 3 tries this season have come from the wing. However, Moor hasn’t scored in 3 games. Hopefully, a shift back to the wing can help him find his scoring touch again. The other big change is the arrival of Saracens loose forward Jack Nay. Nay will be suiting up in the number 8 jersey as he makes his MLR debut against San Diego. As a result, Kolby Francis will be coming off the bench and Andrew Wilson finds himself out of the matchday squad.

The San Diego Legion are riding a 4 game winning streak into this game with the Toronto Arrows. Most of the lineup remains the same from the previous match with the Austin Elite. The biggest change comes in the No 8 jersey. Drew Gaffney will start on the bench allowing for the Legion’s new big signing to make his MLR debut. Earlier this week the San Diego Legion announced that they have signed Maori All Blacks loose forward Jordan Manihera. Manihera joins the Legion from Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup. Last season he registered 102 tackles and 3 tries in 10 games. Manihera has also made 2 appearances for the Blues in Super Rugby. Manihera is the 2nd Blues player to find a new home after failing to make the big club this season. Canadian lock Evan Olmstead recently left to rejoin the Newcastle Falcons of the Premiership. Manihera is replacing Gaffney at No.8, but it is unclear if he will be taking on Gaffney’s role as a jumper in the lineout. Waikato certainly did not utilize Manihera that way (he was only featured as a receiver in 1 lineout all year). This could mean a heavier workload for Psalm Wooching or perhaps even Keni Nasoqeqe being targeted more. The backline is the strength of this Legion team. Led by their captain Joe Pietersen, the backline has been able to use their elite speed and creativity to create confusion and massive holes in opposing defenses. The only change in the back line is Dylan Audsley and Ryan Matyas swapping jerseys. Audsley shifts to the wing and Matyas take his place at centre. An interesting inclusion in the lineup is Kapeli Pifeleti. Pifeleti will wear the 16 jersey and come on in relief of hooker Dan Muir. However, Pifeleti played in the USA Eagles thrilling last-second victory over Canada at the Americas Rugby Championship just two days ago. That is a super quick turnaround for 2 professional rugby games. However, Pifeleti did only play the final 7 minutes of that match, so we will see how fresh he is when he takes the pitch on Sunday night.

3 Things To Watch

Jack Nay

Jack Nay was one of the Arrows biggest overseas signings this year. The 21-year-old No. 8 helped England capture a Grand Slam victory at the 2017 U20 Six Nations tournament. Nay is a product of the Saracens academy system, one of the best club teams in the world. Being a part of the Saracens academy has given Nay the chance to work and develop as a back row player with the likes of Schalk Burger and Billy Vunipola. However, Nay has only made one appearance for the Saracens, a Premiership Cup match with Leicester Tigers where he only played 15 minutes. The Saracens are an incredibly tough squad to make. Since 2010 the Saracens have won 4 Premiership Championships (2 runner-ups as well) and 2 Champions Cups and the players named to their squad reflect that dynastic reign. In addition to Burger and Vunipola the Saracens back row also includes Calum Clark, Jackson Wray, Ben Earl, and Michael Rhodes, all of which are constantly battling for playing time. The Saracens back row is an incredibly difficult lineup to break into. As a result, Nay has found himself playing for the Bedford Blues of the RFU Championship where he scored 6 tries last year. The Saracens have now loaned Nay to the Toronto Arrows. His arrival has been long awaited and Nay will be looking to provide an additional spark to a fantastic pack. Nay will provide the Arrows with a powerful running option as well as be vital at all breakdowns. Nay is a prospect that frequently trains with one of the best clubs in the world, it will be very interesting to see what he does in Major League Rugby.

Legion Speed

The San Diego Legion are one of MLR’s fastest teams. The back line, in particular, is incredibly quick. At scrum-half, you won’t see Nate Augspurger waiting to use the ball very often. Once the ball is available Augspurger will fire it out to one of the speedy backs. The first receiver is flyhalf Joe Pietersen, a former Blitzbok and Super Rugby player. Pietersen has excellent ball distribution skills and the rest of the backline runs some very creative patterns. The ball will move quickly down the line passing through the hands of JP Du Plessis, Ryan Matyas, Dylan Audsley, and Kyle Rogers. The Arrows will also have to deal with Jasa Veremalua on the wing. Veremalua is a former member of the famed Fijian sevens team. He helped them capture the Olympic Gold Medal in at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Veremalua possesses all of the skill and flair that the Fijians are known for. The Legion like to keep the ball in motion and one of the ways you can do that is by offloading. Veremalua is one of the best in the league at finding his teammates. The Arrows will have to be on their toes. You cannot take a second to breathe against the Legion. They have burned many teams this year by taking quick lineouts and quick taps on penalties. The Arrows defense will need to be sharp if they want to slow down the Legion’s pace.

The Scrum

Heading into their week 6 game the Glendale Raptors possessed the number 1 ranked scrum in Major League Rugby. Then they played the Toronto Arrows. Now they have the 6th ranked scum in MLR. The scrum, led by Morgan Mitchell’s dominance, has been the standout component to the Arrows game. Although, the Arrows are ranked 4th overall in scrums won percentage (91.3%), what they were able to do to the Raptors was mindboggling. The Arrows will get a big chance to climb the scrum rankings this week as they go up against a San Diego Legion scrum ranked in the bottom 3 of the league (85.7%). However, don’t let the stats fool you too much. The Legion posses a number of great forwards in their pack. Most notably is prop Paddy Ryan. Ryan is a former Wallaby and has 105 Super Rugby games under his belt (all for the Waratahs). Ryan spent 8 years playing in the best league in the world, so this will be a big chance for the Arrows front row to measure themselves against a player of Ryan’s caliber. It will be an important matchup for Rob Brouwer. As the Arrows’ loosehead prop Brouwer will be head-to-head with Ryan, the Legion’s tighthead, for the duration of the game. Brouwer has had an excellent season so far this year and is looking to make a push for a shot at Canada’s Rugby World Cup squad. A big game head to head with Ryan will surely capture Kingsley Jones’ attention.

The Toronto Arrows take on the San Diego Legion on Sunday, March 10th at 10:30pm. You can catch the game on CBS Sports Network or Facebook Watch.

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