Toronto Arrows have familiar look as Major League Rugby season starts

The Canadian Press

Major League Rugby kicks off its third season this weekend with three new teams and some big-name additions in South Africa's Tendai (The Beast) Mtawarira and former All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Rene Ranger. 

While the rest of the league revamps and reloads, the Toronto Arrows have made minimal changes. Perhaps not surprising given the first-year franchise reeled off seven straight wins to finish the 2019 season at 11-5-0 before falling to the eventual champion Seattle Seawolves in the playoff semifinal.

Twenty-nine members of the Arrows' 35-man roster players are back from last year. Many go back much further, having played together on the Ontario Blues.

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"We really wanted to have that continuity," said Chris Silverthorn, the Arrows' director of rugby.

"When you go back even to the Blues' days, some of these players have played together for seven or eight years," he added. "So they're familiar with each other, familiar with the staff and have that kind of camaraderie. They know what each other's going to do and how they're going to react in certain situations."

There is less known about Sunday's opponent — and that includes the team name.

The franchise was founded in 2017 as Austin Elite Rugby before switching to the Austin Herd. Now owned by Australia-based Loyals LLC, the team is known as the Austin Gilgronis.

"I hear it's a (cocktail) drink," said Silverthorn, referencing a reportedly yet-to-be-unveiled cocktail.

It's the first of seven straight road games for the Arrows thanks to the Toronto winter. The team went 4-4-0 on the road to start its inaugural 2019 season before winning seven of the next eight at home.

Austin went 0-16-0 last season but had close matches with Toronto, losing 23-19 and 24-13.

"We don't know much about them, to be honest," Silverthorn said of Austin's 2020 lineup.

Austin is coached by Mick Byrne, a former skills coach with New Zealand and Australia.

New to the Arrows squad are New Zealand fly half Tayler Adams, Australian prop Richie Asiata, Uruguay No. 8 Manuel Diana, Argentine flanker Tomas de la Vega and Canadian centre Ben LeSage and prop Tyler Rowland.

Silverthorn says Adams is an unpredictable, pacey playmaker who will turn heads this season.

"He's looking one way and passing the ball 20 yards the other way," said Silverthorn. "He just has that kind of confidence ... He's willing to try stuff."

De la Vega is a rugby-playing lawyer, who put his studies ahead of his sport for a while.

The two South Americans newcomers are likely to join forces with vice-captain Lucas Rumball, a Canadian international, in an exciting back row. Canadian international wing Dan Moor is the Arrows' skipper.

The addition of Adams allows fellow Kiwi Sam Malcolm to switch from No. 10 to fullback, giving Toronto another playmaker.

New Zealand prop Morgan Mitchell has left to play in Japan while former Canada sevens captain John Moonlight is focusing on his firefighting career. Theo Sauder is now with the Canadian sevens team while Kainoa Lloyd and Luke Campbell are weighing up their 2020 options in B.C.

Twenty-eight of the Arrows players are Canadian. Eleven were at the 2019 Rugby World Cup (eight for Canada and three for Uruguay).

Silverthorn should be helped by a more benign international calendar this season. He lost seven to 12 players at times last year due to national team commitments.

The new MLR franchises this season are the New England Free Jacks, Washington's Old Glory DC and Atlanta's Rugby ATL.

They join Austin, Toronto, the Colorado Raptors, Houston Sabercats, NOLA (New Orleans) Gold, Rugby United New York, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors.

For the first time, the league has been split into two conferences with Toronto joining New Orleans, New York and the three newcomers in the East.

Marquee additions for 2020 include Mtawarira (Washington), Nonu (San Diego) and Ranger (Colorado). They join Australia's Digby Ioane (Colorado) and France's Mathieu Bastareaud and England's Ben Foden (New York).

Former Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper (Austin) and Drew Mitchell (New York) are also said to be coming over. 

Chris Latham, who won 78 caps for Australia, has taken over the Utah Warriors as coach.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2020.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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