Updates on the 2019 Major League Rugby (MLR) season and the Canadian athletes throughout the league.
Canadian rugby reached an historic moment on Sunday as the first regular season professional rugby union match in the country was played in Toronto. To the delight of all involved, a capacity crowd of 3,081 showed up at York Alumni Field to watch the Arrows play the NOLA Gold. The reception surpassed all expectations and all involved were immensely proud of what could be a watershed moment for the sport in Canada.
The match itself was an absorbing contest between two of the best sides in the league. In the end it was NOLA who stole a 35-31 win thanks to a last-minute try. Though their record now stands at only four wins and five losses, four of Toronto’s defeats have come by a margin of five points or less and they remain in touching distance of the playoffs with seven home games still to play.
A Dan Moor try in the first minute was an ideal start for the Arrows but a combination of excitement and frustration hit the side as they would concede three tries in a span of six minutes. The first was a penalty try with Avery Oitomen sent to the bin for a dangerous tackle. NOLA then exploited the overlap with JP Eloff rounding in the corner, and then Tristan Blewett intercepted a loose pass from Sam Malcolm to sprint away untouched.
Toronto finally got one back through Uruguayan fullback Gastón Mieres, who gathered another long pass from Malcolm to score in the corner. The Gold responded soon after with Ottawa native Eric Howard driving in from close range.
PEI’s Kyle Baillie was shown yellow for a head-high tackle on Oitomen and the Arrows would take advantage just ahead of the break. Mieres crossed for a double, showing good footwork to dance into the left corner.
Andrew Ferguson was next over, showing his strength to drive under Baillie and score from close range. With the momentum now firmly in their favour, the Arrows would take the lead when Morgan Mitchell wrestled his way through two Gold defenders to touch down on the line.
The final quarter would see Toronto’s advances repelled by NOLA, and then the Gold launched a final counter-attack from their own end. After numerous phases they made it to halfway where the referee spotted an Arrows infringement. The attacking lineout gave them the position they needed and Ignacio Dotti arms were just long enough to touch the ball down on the line ahead of the cover to break Toronto’s hearts once again.
In earlier action the Seattle Seawolves survived a slow start in Salt Lake City to beat the Utah Warriors by 48-36. Five Canadians suited up for Seattle with a notable MLR debut for prop Djustice Sears-Duru, who entered the game as an injury replacement just seven minutes in. He would show well in his first run-out with some powerful runs, his first setting up a try for Brock Staller just moments after arriving in the game.
Staller rebounded from his let-up against San Diego to finish with 18 points to bring his total to 106 on the season, the first player to reach the century mark in 2019. Also starting for Seattle were flankers Cam Polson and Nakai Penny, with Phil Mark restored to his scrumhalf role.
A minor injury ruled Noah Barker out of the incredible match at Infinity Park that saw the Glendale Raptors overcome a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston SaberCats 52-44. Two penalty tries at the scrum gave Houston a dream start but they fell apart in the second half, conceding 38 points to watch their seemingly insurmountable lead evaporate.
The final match of the weekend was an evening clash in San Diego where the Legion outclassed Austin Elite by 45-15. Five Canadians were in the visiting lineup but they couldn’t stem the tide as poor kicking and a string of handling errors cost the Elite dearly. Josh Larsen, Moe Abdelmonem, and Travis Larsen all started in the pack. Aidan McMullan played on the left wing but came off mid-way through the first half, and Doug Fraser defended valiantly at outside centre.
There are four matches this coming weekend with three set to feature Canadian players. New Orleans will host Utah on Saturday while Seattle heads to Houston for the first ever match in at the new purpose-built AVEVA Stadium. Sunday’s games will both come in the early afternoon as New York play host to San Diego, and Toronto looks to get its first home win on the books against Austin.
All matches this week will be available to Canadian viewers on the MLR Facebook page. The Arrows game will also be broadcast nationwide on GameTV. Tickets for the match at Alumni Field are available now on the Arrows website.
WEEK 12 SCHEDULE
Utah Warriors at NOLA Gold
Saturday, April 13
Noon PT, 3pm ET
Seattle Seawolves at Houston SaberCats
Saturday, April 13
3pm PT, 6pm ET
San Diego Legion at Rugby United New York
Sunday, April 14
10am PT, 1pm ET
Austin Elite at Toronto Arrows
Sunday, April 14
11am PT, 12pm ET