The 2020 Major League Rugby (MLR) season is less than a month away and the expansion of the league and growth of the Toronto Arrows has brought new development opportunities across Canadian rugby in an effort to develop the game nationally and build Canada's presence on the world stage.
The Arrows finished their inaugural season third-ranked overall, averaging 2,130 fans per home game in 2019. Entering it’s third season, the MLR has now grown to 12 teams with the addition of the Rugby ATL, the New England Free Jacks, and Old Glory DC in 2020.
“We want the growth of the Arrows to beget the growth the game at all levels in Canada,” said Arrows President and General Partner, Bill Webb. “At the highest level, we want our growth to lead to more reps, better preparation, better performance, and more competition for our national team athletes. At the grassroots level and everything in between, we want our growth to create an aspiration pathway and develop role models for young men and women dreaming of competing at the highest level possible.”
According to the MLR, around 50 Canadians will be playing on teams throughout the league this season. The Toronto Arrows currently boast 13 capped Canadian National players, several more Canadian U20 grads, and four players who have come through this past year’s Pacific Pride program.
“The Arrows and the growth of the MLR has been of huge benefit to not only our national team, but also to emerging Canadian coaches and the grassroots game,” said Canada’s Senior National team head coach and Director of Men’s Rugby, Kingsley Jones. “We’ve still got a ways to go for the league to be competitive internationally, but having so many of our athletes in full time high performance environments is key to our success on the world stage.”
Seeing the emergence of the North American professional game and growing success of Canada’s team, Jones and Rugby Canada have been working closely with the Toronto Arrows to capitalize on this new phase of Canadian rugby.
“We’ve been working very well together with the Arrows, Pacific Pride, national age grade coaches, and provincial technical leads in creating a nationwide talent ID register from the ages of 16 onwards, which will ensure that we’re creating a sustainable pathway that is aligned throughout,” said Jones. “We’re looking not only to develop athletes, but coaches across the country as well.”
Events like the MLR conference held in late 2019 are extending these development opportunities through to provincial rugby leads and aligning performance goals and objectives through to the national teams and MLR.
“I think we are moving in the right direction and we have like-minded people across the country who want nothing more than our teams to be successful,” said Rugby Alberta- Director of Rugby, Graeme Moffat. “Everyone is working closer together around talent ID, player pathways, and clearer outcomes for developing players from both a technical and physical perspective. There are some great opportunities for coaches to develop through Rugby Canada and the Arrows in the coming months which will be key to helping grow the game locally as we work with players who are aiming to make Provincial and National age grade sides.”
On the continued alignment efforts between the professional game and Rugby Canada, Bill Webb added: “We’ve got complementary building blocks between the national team and the Arrows senior team, as well as complementary academies in the Pacific Pride program and the newly-formed Arrows Academy; we’re all choosing from the same pool of Canadian players, and we’re pooling our resources to identify and develop potential talent.”
The MLR season will feature 96-matches and is set to kick off on Saturday, February 8th with the Arrows first match on February 9th against the Austin Herd.
For full Toronto Arrows schedule, please click here.