Toronto Arrows sign veteran Irish back, look to add talent in MLR dispersal draft

TORONTO — The Toronto Arrows added international experience Thursday by signing veteran Irish back Noel Reid for the 2023 Major League Rugby season.

The 32-year-old Reid arrives from England's London Irish, with whom he finished out the 2021-22 Premiership Rugby season.

Reid began his pro career with Leinster in 2012, making more than 120 appearances and scoring more than 100 points in seven seasons with the then-Pro12/Pro14 club. The six-foot-one 205-pounder went on to play for England's Leicester Tigers (2019-20) and France's Agen (2020-22) before joining London Irish in February.

Primarily a centre who can also play fly half, Reid won a cap for Ireland against Argentina in 2014. The Dublin native also represented his country at age-grade level, at both the 2009 Six Nations Under-20 Championship and 2010 IRB Junior World Championship.

"Noel comes to us as a capped player from a top rugby power,” Arrows COO and GM Mark Winokur said in a statement. "He has plenty of experience at the highest levels of club and international rugby, and can play several positions very well.

“We are keen to see him fit into our backline this season, and we welcome a very solid citizen to the team room."

Reid called MLR "an exciting league on the rise."

“I’m now in a position in my career where I can pick an opportunity I truly want to do, as opposed to one I have to do, and the prospect of a season in North America and playing for a club like the Arrows is an opportunity that really piques my interest,” he said.

The Arrows could be adding more talent through the planned dispersal draft of players from the Austin Gilgronis and Los Angeles Giltinis, who will not be part of the league in 2023.

The league announced Tuesday it was suspending operations of the two sides for next season, citing uncertainties surrounding their ownership.

Australian entrepreneur Adam Gilchrist owns both teams, named after cocktails. It appears he was unsuccessful in trying to sell the franchises.

Austin (12-4-0) and Los Angeles (11-5-0) finished 1-2 in the Western Conference standings last season but were disqualified in June from taking part in the post-season for "a violation of league rules." The league did not provide specifics of the infraction.

The Giltinis were league champions in their inaugural 2021 season.

The 2023 season will feature 12 teams in a two-conference competition, with the 11 remaining franchises from 2022 and a yet-to-be announced expansion team in a new market.

The dispersal draft is expected to take place in the next two weeks.

"Quite a few of those guys are of interest to us and other teams for sure," Winokur said in an interview. "We'll have to see what the rules of engagement are and what we can do."

Canadian centre Ben LeSage, prop Djustice Sears-Duru, hooker Lindsey Stevens and backrower Corey Thomas were with the Giltinis last season. All four are Canadian internationals with LeSage a former Arrow.

Winokur called this week's changes short-term pain for long-term gain.

"A lot of people worked very very hard and long hours to try and get a positive result for the players, the staff and the fans in those cities. And we ran out of runway. We got to a point where we have to move on with the 2023 plan. And this was the best option."

Winokur said both L.A. and Austin are good markets for the league, which started played in 2018

"I think there's a high probability that one or both would be back at some stage," he added.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press