Their pre-season limited due to COVID-19 protocols back home, the Toronto Arrows looked out of sorts in their season-opening 21-14 loss at Rugby ATL last weekend.
Chris Silverthorn, the Arrows' director of rugby, is hoping for a more fluid showing Saturday when Toronto visits the Utah Warriors in Major League Rugby play.
"We are better than what we showed, that's for sure," Silverthorn said. "We showed a lot of rust. And not having a pre-season game really affected us that week.
"That's no excuse. All credit to Atlanta … We will be better this week, for sure."
The game against Atlanta was Toronto's first since March 6, 2020, when it lost 22-19 at the Colorado Raptors. The league then cancelled the season due to the global pandemic.
The Atlanta loss came with a hangover of sorts. Argentine prop Gaston Cortes was sent off in his Toronto debut while second-row forward Paul Ciulini tweaked his hamstring.
Silverthorn says while he has yet to see video evidence of Cortes' crime, the referee said the prop's knee made contact with the back of the Atlanta scrum half, who was on the wrong side of a ruck.
Cortes has been suspended for two weeks as a result.
"He's played 15 years of pro rugby and this is his first red card," said Silverthorn. "Two weeks is about as minimal as it can get, I guess. But it's still two weeks."
Cole Keith is switching from loosehead prop to tighthead to replace Cortes with Pat Lynott moving into the No. 1 jersey. Keith played tighthead for the team last year.
Mike Sheppard will start in place of Ciulini.
Visiting Utah edged Austin 30-28 last week in a game that saw the Gilgronis miss a 52-metre penalty attempt in injury time. The Warriors roster includes Vancouver scrum half Fraser Hurst, as well as a big, physical forward pack.
"They're probably the biggest team in the league and we're the smallest," said Silverthorn. "So it's going to come down to fitness levels and just being technically a bit better. I think we can beat them with the speed of our game and our skill — and really move them around the park. That will expose holes later on."
The Arrows will add to their skill Saturday in the form of Argentine newcomers Joaquin Tuculet and Manuel Montero, who didn't make the match-day 23 against Atlanta. Both arrived late in Canada because of visa issues and had just two practices with the team after finishing their quarantine.
"We just didn't think they were physically prepared," said Silverthorn. "They came in great shape, don't get me wrong, but we didn't want risk of injury."
Tuculet will start at fullback while Montero is expected to come in on the second half.
Tuculet, 31, has won 56 caps and scored 18 tries for Argentine. The 29-year-old Montero, a load of a winger at six foot four and 240 pounds, has 27 caps and 16 tries for the Pumas.
"I think Tuculet and Montero are going to be quite impressive," said Silverthorn.
The Arrows have set up shop in Atlanta due to pandemic-related border restrictions, sharing facilities with Rugby ATL.
While Silverthorn says the Atlanta team has been very hospitable, working out the arrangements is "still a work in progress." Plus his squad is having to adjust to a less stringent attitude towards the pandemic in Georgia.
"It's a bit of a culture shock, considering where we've come with our COVID protocols … it's a bit different down here," Silverthorn said. "A lot of people aren't wearing masks. Everything's pretty much open here."
The team is trying to remain in a bubble as much as it can.
Silverthorn fielded a starting 15 with 15 full internationals — 10 Canadians, three Uruguayans and two Argentines — against Atlanta. Together they had a cap count of 340.
Toronto flankers Tomy De La Vega and Lucas Rumball were both named to the league's team of the week.
The Warriors have been cleared for more than 75-per-cent capacity seating at Zions Bank Stadium for Saturday's game.
Toronto was 4-0-1 when the 2020 season was cancelled last March. Utah was 2-2-1.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press