TORONTO — The Toronto Arrows have traded Canadian international centre Ben LeSage, a first-team Major League Rugby all-star this season, to the Los Angeles Giltinis.
The Arrows team acquired the rights to Canadian flanker James O’Neill, salary cap considerations and a third-round selection in the 2022 MLR collegiate draft from Los Angeles in exchange for the rights to LeSage.
In a separate transaction, the Arrows signed New Zealand centre Ueta Tufuga.
LeSage promptly signed a two-year deal with the Giltinis.
“I’m definitely appreciative of Toronto and the Arrows giving me my first professional contract. Now, I’m up for a new adventure and learning from some of the best who’ve ever played the game,” LeSage said in a statement. “Playing against the Giltinis last season, you pretty quickly realized they were the real deal.
"Joining MLR’s defending champions is a great opportunity to improve as a rugby player in a really good team environment that gained the respect of the league in year one.”
The 25-year-old LeSage, who has served as Canada vice-captain, spent two seasons with the Arrows, recording five tries in 18 matches. He will join fellow Canadians DTH van der Merwe and Corey Thomas in Los Angeles where is a candidate to succeed Australian star Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has transitioned to an assistant coach role with the Giltinis
“We thank Ben for his two years of service in trying circumstances and wish him well in the future,” Arrows GM and COO Mark Winokur said in a statement, referencing the Arrows relocation to suburban Atlanta last season due to the pandemic, “As we look ahead to 2022, we are excited to see what James and Ueta can bring to our team.”
The Calgary-born LeSage played for Canada at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, breaking his hand four minutes into Canada's opening match — a 48-7 loss to Italy in Fukuoka City. He tackled an Italian, whose knee landed on his hand as he went down.
LeSage, who later found out he had broken the third metacarpal bone in his right hand, finished the game.
The six-foot 215-pounder holds a degree in mechatronics engineering — a subset of mechanical engineering that focuses on robotics — with a minor in commerce from the University of British Columbia where his international rugby career took off.
The 23-year-old Tufuga comes to Toronto from New Zealand's Wairarapa Bush side. The six-foot 220-pounder spent time as an under-18 development athlete with Super Rugby's Hurricanes in 2015, was longlisted for the All Blacks’ under-20 team in 2018 and was part of the National Provincial Championship's Southland Stags’ training group in 2020.
O’Neill was taken in the third round (26th overall) in the 2021 MLR Collegiate Draft. The 23-year-old from Cochrane, Alta., captained the University of Victoria to the Canadian university championship title in 2019.
The six-foot 230-pound backrower is a former captain of both the Canadian under-20 team and the Pacific Pride national development academy, which he led to the British Columbia’s Coastal Cup recently.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press