Toronto Arrows vs Rugby ATL - Game #1 Preview, Lineups & Streaming Info
Source: Bernard Ayala
It’s finally here! After a year-long wait, Major League Rugby finally kicks off the 2021 season!
The Toronto Arrows will begin their quest for the Shield by battling their new roommates Rugby ATL! The opening match of the year is always a critical one. It’s a chance to the season started on the right foot and show what you have been working towards all off-season. It’s a match that generates plenty of excitement for both fans and players alike. Especially, this year.
On March 19, 2020, Commissioner George Killebrew announced the cancellation of the 2020 MLR season. Now, after 366 long days, professional rugby makes its return to North America! We can do all the analysis and match breakdowns we want, but ultimately, it just feels great to have MLR rugby back!
Lock Conor Keys appeared to suffer an injury in the Silver vs Black intrasquad game. He looks to be ruled out for week 1, leaving captain Matt Heaton as RATL’s lone Canadian representative. He is going head-to-head with Lucas Rumball on the openside. Heaton vs Rumball is one of the most intriguing Canadian vs Canadian position battles in the league. It should be fun!
Flyhalf Kurt Coleman also appeared to suffer an injury in that intrasquad game. Ultimately, that means Duncan van Schalkwyk gets the start at flyhalf. Los Pumas centre Bautista Ezcurra will make his MLR debut at inside centre with Jeremy Misailegalu at outside centre. Also making his MLR debut will be former Pro 14 scrumhalf Rowan Gouws.
The pack is similar to what we say in the pre-season match with Utah. Only one change has been made as Neethling Gericke starts at hooker, shifting Alex Maughan to tighthead prop, and Jonas Petrakopoulous to the bench.
The first Arrows starting XV of 2021 proved to be quite the lineup! Marquee signings Manuel Montero and Joaquin Tuculet have only recently finished quarantining, so Arrows fans will have to wait at least one more week to see them.
Adrian Wadden has had an outstanding camp in the buildup to the 2021 season! For his efforts, he earns the starting 4 jersey as he makes his MLR debut. Wadden will be joined by Gastón Cortes and Jason Higgins as the three Arrows suiting up in their first MLR game.
Gastón Mieres is returning from a broken leg suffered in November. As a result, his minutes will be monitored and Mitch Richardson starts on the left wing. The rest of the lineup features plenty of familiar names and fan favourites. Lucas Rumball and Ben LeSage will lead the side in their first official game as co-captains.
The big question with the lineup remains who will take over the kicking duties? Andrew Ferguson, Taylor Adams, Guiseppe du Toit, and Will Kelly (when he enters the game) seem like likely candidates. We will have to wait until the first penalty or try to find out. Unless of course, that try is under the posts.
Keys to the Game
The New Laws
Major League Rugby recently announced that they would be trialling a few new laws “aimed to increase action”. The reaction to the laws has been mixed, but regardless of opinion, you have to play with them. The five new laws are:
• Kickers will have 60 seconds as opposed to 90 seconds for any kick (conversion/penalty) and will have a kick clock to help guide them. • Seven points will be automatically awarded for any try scored directly under the posts and no conversion will be necessary. • Referees will work with stricter protocols that will limit the number of scrums to two per incident – the original plus one reset for a collapse, penalty, or freekick. • The offside line will be the feed line/channel of the scrum to allow for unimpeded access to the ball at the back of the scrum for the attacking team. • No longer will a red card mean a team plays a man down for the remainder of the match. Under the new law, a red card would lead to a player being sent off and the team goes down to 14 players for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the player can be replaced with another player on the bench. The red-carded players cannot return to the field in any event and will go through subsequent disciplinary procedures.” (source Major League Rugby)
To me, the most intriguing of the new laws is the limit on scrum resets and the offside line at the scrum as (for better or worse) this could completely change the way teams defend and attack set-pieces. Ultimately, this will be the variation that has the biggest impact on the game. It will also be interesting to see how referee's call and enforce the new scrum laws. There could be an adjustment period for players, coaches, and referees.
In their 2020 meeting, the Arrows scrum dominated Rugby ATL. I would expect more of the same on Saturday. Cole Keith makes the switch over to the loosehead side for the first time in MLR (although he has played it before) and we get our first glimpse of Cortes in Major League Rugby. Jack McRogers will also be looking to get his season off to a fine start. He will be relied on more heavily following the injury to Steven Ng.
RATL’s front row will see Chance Wenglewski, Gericke, and Maughan. Wenglewski struggled with Paul Mullen in their pre-season clash with Utah. If he has similar troubles with Cortes, it’s going to be a long night for RATL. Scrums can be won and lost in the engine room. Head coach Scott Lawrence has declared that he thinks Marno Redelinghuys and Johan Momsen give them the advantage here.
Wadden and Paul Ciulini will certainly look to prove that that isn’t the case. The competition in the back row rounds out with Connor Cook, Matt Heaton, and Jason Damm vs Tomás de la Vega, Lucas Rumball, and Manuel Diana. How will the new laws affect how they operate at the back of the scrum?
Rob Howley’s Influence
One of the biggest Arrows’ acquisitions in the off-season was the hiring (in association with Rugby Canada) of former Lions and Wales attack coach Rob Howley as a consultant. Howley possesses one of the sharpest rugby minds on the planet. How will Peter Smith’s attacking structure look now that it has been sprinkled with Howley’s influence? We will find out on Saturday night.
You can catch the Arrows vs Rugby ATL live on TSN.ca or the TSN app at 7pm Saturday! The match will also be on TSN2 but will join in-progress following the conclusion of the NASCAR race (so use the app to see the full game live). All other MLR matchups will be available on the newly created The Rugby Network streaming site!