Rugby Rewind: Arrows vs Warriors

Source: José Romelo Lagman / Toronto Arrows

Today, March 30, 2020, marks the first anniversary of an absolute classic Major League Rugby match. In a round 10 clash, the 3-4-0 Toronto Arrows travelled to the picturesque Zions Bank Stadium to take on the 1-4-1 Utah Warriors. Recently, I ranked this match 5th on my list of Top 5 Arrows games to watch while social distancing. The main reason why this match is so revered amongst Arrows fans is because the Arrows ran in 9 tries, from 9 different try scorers, en route to setting the MLR record for most points in a game.

The Build Up

The Toronto Arrows were handed a loaded schedule for their inaugural season. The Arrows travelled to Utah for their final match of an 8-game road trip to open the season. The Arrows entered the game with a 3-4-0 record, having rotated wins and losses throughout the season. However, that record was not necessarily a strong indicator of what the team could truly do.

Their two losses to the NOLA Gold in the season opener and the Glendale (now Colorado) Raptors in the snow were the only two games where you could say the Arrows were not the best team on the pitch. Their losses to RUNY and Seattle Seawolves were games that the Arrows felt they let slip through their fingers in the final stages of the match (not to take any credit away from those clubs for their victories).

For those first seven matches the Arrows were never truly at their full strength. The Americas Rugby Championship took place during the opening half of the MLR season. As a result, the Arrows were frequently without many of their top players because they were away on international duty. It was not just the Canadian players, as Gaston Mieres and Leandro Leivas were also representing Uruguay. Players such as Mike Sheppard and Guiseppe du Toit began to trickle back into the lineup as Kingsley Jones made his own personnel decisions.

The ARC concluded prior to their match with RUNY two weeks prior. Mieres and Leivas joined Lucas Rumball and Cole Keith in entering the Arrows lineup. The Arrows narrowly lost a tight match 24-21 on a 79th minute John Quill try. A bye week followed, and that allowed for the return of everyone who participated in the ARC. Theo Sauder, Jamie Mackenzie, and Kainoa Lloyd were all available for Mark Winokur and Chris Silverthorn.

As the Arrows prepared for the match against Utah, Winokur and Silverthorn had the full strength of their squad available to them for the first time.

The squad they chose to take on Utah was:

An injury to Andrew Quattrin allowed Steven Ng to get his first start of his MLR career. Kolby Francis was a late addition after Jack Nay was removed from the lineup. Marcello Wainwright slide into Francis’ spot on the bench.

It was a beautiful day in Utah and Zions Bank Stadium was looking as scenic as ever. The conditions were perfect for running rugby and both sides would take advantage of that throughout the match. The Arrows got off to a flying start. Scrumhalf Andrew Ferguson had a big line break to bring the Arrows into Warriors’ territory.

The next phase would see Rumball crash towards the Warriors defensive line and Lance Williams would be caught offside. Sam Malcolm gave the Arrows a lineout just 5m away. The Arrows would execute a fake maul to perfection as Rob Brouwer took a pass from Paul Ciulini and smashed his way through the Utah defense. This would be Brouwer’s first MLR try.

The Arrows would keep the foot on the gas as big line breaks from Morgan Mitchell and Peter Milazzo brough the Arrows right back to striking distance. Ng would carry to the tryline and Mike Sheppard finished it off. The trademark dominant scrum for the Arrows would soon earn a penalty and the Arrows would be threatening to score once again.

After the forwards worked through the phases, Malcolm sent a beautiful cut-out pass to Dan Moor (skipping Spencer Jones, Avery Oitomen, and Gaston Mieres). Moor finished the try in the corner and the Arrows led 19-0 after just 15 minutes.

After giving up 19 points in the games opening 15 minutes, the Warriors would hit right back. Francis would bobble the kickoff from Josh Reeves and Malcolm would fail to find touch which set up the Warriors first real attacking opportunity. The Arrows defense was solid, but eventually they jumped offside. This led to Jackson Kaka dotting down the first Warriors try.

Soon after, Reeves, Tim O’Malley, and Don Pati would work the ball to Tonata Lauti on the edge. Lauti looked to be in for a try but Ferguson brought him down. Referee Derek Summers ruled that Ferguson had tripped Lauti and awarded a penalty try while Ferguson headed to the sin bin. Toronto would not escape the 10 minutes unscathed as Fetu’u Vainikolo would dot down in the corner to tie the game at 19-19 in the 27th minute. The Toronto Arrows had built up a massive 19-point lead in just 15 minutes, but it was gone just as fast.

The Arrows maintained control of both possession and territory for the next 10 minutes. Malcolm would go down as a result of a late hit from Saia ‘Uhila. ‘Uhila would be penalized on the play but escape a card. Malcolm stayed in the game. Following the ensuing lineout, Ferguson would push the pace with a lot of quick balls, stretching the Warriors defense.

Ng would once again carry the ball close to the line and Francis would pick and go, beating a Williams tackle for the try. Francis was not even supposed to start this game, but with the late removal of Jack Nay, he did. Francis took his opportunity and scored a massive try just before the half. The Arrows got momentum back and took a 26-19 lead into the sheds.

The second half started in incredibly similar fashion as the first half. Namely, the Arrows shot out to another 19-point lead (then Malcolm converted a try to make it a 21-point lead). The Arrows were on their way to developing one of the top scrums in the competition and it showed early in the 2nd half. The Arrows used a powerful scrum that saw Francis offload to Lucas Rumball. I don’t know how many defenders it actually takes to stop Rumball from scoring a try, but I do know it is more than 3.

Shortly after Rumball’s try, du Toit would send a cheeky kick behind the Warriors defense. Mieres would chase and tackle Lauti inside the Warriors in goal. The first scrum led to a penalty to the Arrows. They opted to go again and Wainwright dotted down the Arrows’ 6th try off the match.

Soon after the Arrows defense would shine. Great line speed from the Arrows led to a Vainikolo knock-on that Sheppard promptly scooped up. Sheppard would get the ball away to Oitomen, who would sprint under the posts and dot down with a stylish dive. The Arrows found themselves up 47-19 after 52 minutes.

The Warriors would not go down without a fight. After taking a pass off the bounce, Lauti stepped Mieres and Theo Sauder, made a nice cut back inside on Malcolm and finished off a great solo effort try. After leading the MLR in tries in 2018, Lauti finally touched down for his first of 2019. Although he could have had one earlier, Ferguson’s yellow card resulted in that play being awarded as a penalty try.

My goodness, there was really not a lot of time between tries in this match. The Arrows wasted no time in restoring the 28-point lead and once again, strong defensive play created the try. Mieres read O’Malley like a book and intercepted his pass. The path to the ingoal was clear and he dotted down under the sticks. This try and the conversion that followed put the Arrows up 54-26 and brought the Arrows to within 1 point of the MLR record. Seattle had scored 55 points in a victory over the NOLA Gold back in 2018.

After Nolan Tuamoheloa scored to make it 54-31, the record would fall. Arthur Bergo would be pinged for slowing down the ruck and Malcolm would lineup the first penalty attempt of the match. Malcolm slotted it and the Arrows took a 57-31 leading setting the new standard in MLR. Malcolm had an amazing day with the boot as he was 8/9 on conversions and 1/1 on penalties.

To cap the day off, Spencer Jones would pounce on another loose Utah pass. He would offload to du Toit, who would find Lloyd with plenty of space in front of him. Lloyd’s try would be the ninth and final try of the match. In the Arrows’ 64-31 victory, they received a full team effort and scored 9 tries from 9 different try scorers.

The Legacy

The Toronto Arrows would be in sole possession of the record for most points in a game for just 5 rounds. In round 15, the Utah Warriors once again found themselves on the wrong side of a lopsided score. Robbie Petzer scored 34 points on his own as the Glendale Raptors defeated Utah 64-22. The Raptors also put up 9 tries in the match, but those came from just 6 different try scorers (so the Arrows are still in sole possession of one record).

Beyond the record, this game was a massive message of intent to the rest of the league. The Arrows finally had their full squad together and were ready to unleash it in front of their home fans for 8 straight games in a row. The Arrows had come out of the road trip with a .500 record, while missing a significant portion of their team.

At the time, there was talk of the Arrows “running the table” at home and making the playoffs. That is nearly what happened. A heartbreaking loss to NOLA in the home opener ruined the “run the table” idea for a moment. That would turn out to be the only blemish on the Arrows record the rest of the way. The Arrows won 7 in a row to make the playoffs in their inaugural year. Unfortunately, they would fall to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.

The Arrows are one of the best teams in MLR. To me this game marks the moment where they truly arrived in the competition. The full squad was able to train together for the first time and they put up a record setting performance their first time out.

Since the bye week and all the ARC players finally arriving, the Arrows have gone 12-2-0 in the regular season, including an 11-game win streak. Since the full squad was available the Arrows have been absolutely dominant in MLR and their 64-31 victory over Utah was our first chance to see how dominant they were going to become.

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