The Toronto Arrows returns to Canada at Rugby Rally event analysis

Toronto Arrows player Mitch Richardson in the second half in Leesburg, Virginia

TORONTO, ON โ€“ The Toronto Arrows return to Canada in the Rugby Rally event at York Lions Stadium. In that game, they faced the Atlantic Selects. This is Torontoโ€™s first game played in Canada since June 2, 2019.

The Toronto Arrows come back to Canada in the inaugural Rugby Rally event

Game preview

For most people looking at the Rugby Rally event game, it might be just an exhibition. Many of the Arrows players on the regular roster are missing because of their action with Rugby Canada in the recently failed World Cup qualifiers. For others, it is having a rest before the 2022 MLR season starts. However, seen in the Tweet above, players like Jack McRogers, Will Kelly, and Andrew Ferguson all played along with many MLR Arrows academy players. Also, Arrows draft pick Sam Mace was also playing for the Arrows. Kelly played a major role in the game converting six of the nine penalties for Toronto. This is while the Atlantic Selects included club players from Atlantic Canada including New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, for the Arrows, it is so much more. This is their first home game at home since clinching a playoff spot with a tight win against then fellow expansion side Rugby United New York in 2019. This is also the first the Arrows played a home game at York Lions Stadium since 2018 when it was known as the Ontario Arrows. They just put a certified World Rugby turf at York Lions Stadium. The stadium is pretty nice. It also adds to the university studentโ€™s atmosphere at York University. The media box is also fairly cozy, where one can get a great view of the game.

Game overview

The game began with the Arrows striking first. Andrew Norton scored the first try of the game for the Arrows. However, the Selects were very competitive despite not being a professional rugby union team. Yes, the Arrows were not playing their best players, but the Selects did an admirable job against them. As a result, Toronto was only winning by seven points with 25 minutes gone in the game. The Arrows would end up with a 14-3 lead at the end of the first half. However, they picked it up though in the second half. The Arrows had eight tries in the second half to win the game 57-10.

This is what Toronto head coach Chris Silverthorn said to Raheem Bashir after the game ended:

โ€œYou know what it was a bit sloppy the first half, just guys, young guys, maybe some nerves just get to know each other and haven’t played a lot of time together. But you know what we regrouped at halftime the second half was fantastic. The guys the skill execution was a lot better. The physicality was more focused, and it was more efficient, and you know, it showed in the scoreboard, so we were happy with it.โ€

They would indeed pick it up in the second half. The Arrows had eight tries in the second half to win the inaugural Rugby Rally event game 57-10. Both Andrew Norton and Mitch Richardson (picture seen above) led the Arrows with two tries each. This is while the Atlantic Selects’ Liam Carter had the lone try for his side.

Artificial turf and natural grass stadiums that exists in the MLR Eastern Conference

With a league as new as MLR, there are not many rugby union-specific stadiums in North America. This is the case with the Eastern Conference. The Arrows might be most similar to Rugby United New York. Cochrane Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium that has FieldTurf. Similar to another home of New York City, MCU Park, which also uses turf and lies adjacent to a baseball field according to Americas Rugby News. Furthermore, they also play at St. John’s University, which is similar to what the Arrows did with Alumni Field and York Lions Stadium. Now there are stadiums with natural grass in MLR like Segra Field of Old Glory DC. However, Segra Field is a soccer-specific stadium, so the configurations compared to a rugby union field are a bit different.

There are also places that have turf in MLR. This is the case for the two main MLR venues in 2019 for the Arrows in addition to York Lions Stadium. They all use turf including York Lions Stadium, Alumni Field (seen in the Tweet above), and Lamport Stadium. Now the turfs are different types. York Lions Stadium installed a new type of turf, which was of World Rugby standard. This is while Alumni Field, which is close to York Lions Stadium, installed a FieldTurf for the games.

Lastly, Lamport Stadium uses artificial turf. This might be worse than the other turfs, but Lamport is located in downtown Toronto. It is fairly easy to get there by Go Train or by streetcar. The atmosphere at Lamport feels like one is in downtown Toronto. There are bars, office buildings, and restaurants near Lamport, which is at Liberty Village. This is quite close to Exhibition Place, which has BMO Field, where Toronto FC and the Argonauts play. Exhibition Place also has Ricoh Coliseum, which hosts Toronto Maple Leafโ€™s AHL-affiliated team, the Toronto Marlies at the Ricoh Coliseum. Both York Lions Stadium and Alumni Field are in Toronto but are a bit far off from the downtown core.

Comparables to the Toronto Arrows-Atlantic Selects Rugby Rally game

There are a few comparables. One is the return of Toronto FC and the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Like the Arrows, it was a return after the hardship of playing in the U.S. since 2019. A lot of these players experienced the troubles of playing overseas. The difference was that TFC and the Blue Jays return was a season game and the Arrows was an exhibition game.

This leads to the other comparison, which is the Toronto Wolfpack. The Wolfpack played at Lamport Stadium last month for the first time since beating the Featherstone Rovers in 2019. The big difference is the roster. The Arrows have at least a few players from that season in 2021 playing in this exhibition game. The Wolfpack meanwhile did not. It was a brand new team with players making their debut with the Wolfpack including the head coach. Also, the Wolfpack returning had more meaning as some people thought the team would fold after getting kicked out of Super League. There was no indication that the Arrows were going to fold despite playing in the U.S. this season, which is a credit to the Arrows management team and Arrows co-owner Bill Webb.

Saying that again, it is nice to see some Wolfpack support at the Arrows game. The Wolfpack secondary mascot Gordo was having fun with the Arrows mascot Archie at the game. It was a fun halftime show, which shows the friendship that both codes of rugby have in Toronto.

Significance of the game

The attendance for the game was 1,247. It was a memorable game, as the Arrows players were clapping back to the fans after the game was over. This is what Silverthorn said to Bashir after the game was finished:

โ€œAmazing, absolutely amazing, so it’s good to be home and sleep on our own beds. It’s good to actually have people cheering you on and supporting you and honestly, they’ve been so fantastic. Our time away through social media and their interaction and just the messages that they’ve sent to our guys. You know what it’s good for us to give back to them and it’s good for them. It’s good for rugby in this country and especially in Toronto. To be able to come out to a game and enjoy each other’s company, enjoy a few beverages, and play some rugby and have some fun and support our local rugby team the Arrows.โ€

Certainly, many Arrows fans and players would agree with that statement. Silverthorn has been the coach of the Arrows since its inception, including the 2021 MLR season, which took place in the U.S. Toronto now looks forward to next year as MLR will add one more team with the Dallas Jackals. Based on past seasons, the season is expected to start in early 2022.

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