By: Adam McQueen
This summer can be best described as tumultuous for Canadian rugby. Disappointing results have compiled and uncertainty has grown. The internal unrest has been punctuated by the widely-covered recent strike spearheaded by the players within the national 7’s program.
However, for the optimists in the Canadian rugby community desperately searching for something positive to latch onto – professional rugby looks firmly on the horizon.
The Ontario Arrows’ foray into the second season of Major League Rugby (MLR) is all but confirmed after earning exclusive negotiating rights in July. While the Arrows staff shore up procedures behind the scenes, the team is set to prepare on-field for professional rugby by taking on the best that the MLR has to offer, hosting the Glendale Raptors at York Lions Stadium on September 16th.
Glendale dominated the MLR throughout the regular season, however they were upset 23-19 by the Seattle Seawolves in the grand finale. It was a thrilling – albeit disappointing – cap on a hugely successful first campaign. The Raptors possess a core of USA Eagles dotted throughout their lineup, while boasting a robust pipeline of depth courtesy of their pre-existing club structure. Anything less than a championship next year will be deemed a failure for the Colorado-based squad.
The Raptors are a high measuring stick for the Arrows to assess themselves against. However, as potentially Canadian rugby’s sole representative in the MLR, the Arrows are not here to simply make up the numbers. If Ontario truly hope to make waves in the 2019 MLR season, Glendale will no doubt be an obstacle that they have to surpass.
The core of the Arrow’s squad will be members of the Ontario Blues, winners of this year’s MacTier Cup. The Blues have been a domestic dynasty, winning six of the last eight Canadian Rugby Championships. In their exhibition match-ups with MLR teams last season, the Arrows acquitted themselves admirably, defeating the Utah Warriors 24-20 and drawing with the Houston Sabercats 28-28.
The step up in competition did not phase the Arrows. However, they have now also drafted in outside talent to round out an incredibly strong training squad. Head coach Chris Silverthorn has addressed the thinnest positional group in the MLR last season – the front row – by bringing in Canadian international prop Cole Keith, as well as British Columbia Bears hooker Steven Ng. With Djustice Sears-Duru returning to Canada after a stint with the Ealing Trailfinders, and University of British Columbia behemoth Clint Lemkus set to play once medically cleared, the Arrows could be a dominant force come scrum time.
Three nationally centralized sevens players are being introduced to the Arrows squad to compliment a bolstered tight five. Andrew Coe and Lucas Hammond – fresh off the MacTier championship – provide plenty of options in the backline, both capable of playing numerous positions. Meanwhile, the hulking Matt Mullins will return to the fifteen’s format in the back row. Mullins was a dominant force for the Canada U20s at the back of the scrum; it will be interesting to to see how his sevens training translates to the more compact version of the game after five years away.
Canadian international Patrick Parfrey will also rejoin the Arrows for the first time in 2018. The Atlantic Rock flyhalf, along with nationally centralized stalwarts Andrew Ferguson and Lucas Rumball, will bring a wealth of international experience to the fold.
Glendale fielded a relatively inexperienced team that was blown away 55-10 by the Collegiate All-Americans in August. However, they will need some of these younger players to adjust to professional rugby in order to accommodate for some significant departures. The Raptors will have to replace the services of two defensive enforcers, Ben Landry and Bryce Campbell, both having secured professional contracts in the English Championship after standout MLR campaigns.
Expect to see a more organized and experienced Glendale outfit in Canada this Sunday. Led by the Eagles halfback pairing of Shaun Davies and Will Magie, the Raptors have a month of training under their belts with the MLR regular season fast approaching.
Tickets can still be purchased online for $25, and are also available at the gate on game day for $30. You can also sign up for a 2019 Season’s Ticket on Sunday.