By: Adam McQueen
The Ontario Arrows laid a statement of intent during a sweltering Sunday in Toronto, upending the Glendale Raptors 40-18. In testing conditions that drained the energy of both sides, it was the Arrows’ depth and physicality in the forward pack that spearheaded a run of 19 unanswered points to ensure a convincing victory.
Ontario caught the visitors flat-footed to open proceedings, their abrasive and direct approach pinning Glendale on their own goal line within the opening ten minutes. After several phases of physical crashballs, hooker Andrew Quattrin barrelled over for the opening score.
However, the early score proved to wake the traveling Raptors – and the Major League Rugby runners-up responded with a scintillating score of their own. Eagles halfback duo Shaun Davies and Will Magie orchestrated a fluid attack that stretched the Arrows defence from sideline to sideline. Magie then flicked a looping miss-pass out wide which resulted in winger Nick Johnson piercing through a scrambling Arrows defence.
The rest of the half remained a tense affair. Following a deft penalty kick to touch by Magie, Glendale’s maul drove over the line with hooker James Del Bozque dotting down. Ontario – behind the force of their scrum – then marched down the field. A quick sequence of pick-and-gos allowed Kolby Francis to score under the posts with relative ease, a defensive effort that is sure to infuriate Raptors’ head coach David Williams.
Glendale’s woes in the forward pack were not limited to scrum time. Del Bozque’s overthrow at the lineout gifted the Arrows possession inside of the Raptors’ 22m line. Ontario Arrows eight-man Matt Mullins then displayed his 7s acumen, stepping inside one defender and bursting through two more before finding his Canadian 7s teammate, Lucas Hammond, for the try. Both Hammond and Mullins were instrumental forces in their return to the XVs format; Canadian coach Kingsley Jones will no doubt be knocking on their door come November. Will Magie kept Glendale within touching distance with two penalties, bringing the halftime score to 21-18.
Both teams exchanged errors to commence the second half. Ontario quickly kicked the ball out of the back of the small goal line on three occasions, while the Raptors struggled to keep ball in hand. However, cracks began to emerge in a Glendale lineup that blended youth with experience. Their lack of depth was exposed as the heat continued to take its toll.
With the wind firmly in their faces, Glendale struggled to clear their lines. An unassuming kick was fielded by Andrew Ferguson, who then opened up the game with a counter-attack down the blind side. The scrumhalf found Andrew Coe in support, who then provided a dazzling offload to a trailing Shawn Windsor, resulting in flanker Marcello Wainwright diving over for the momentum shifting score.
Glendale were unable to break a relentless Arrows defence. Ontario repeatedly stopped the Raptors behind the gainline and attacked the breakdown in the wide channels, disrupting the quick ball that led to Glendale’s early success. Replacement Mitch Richardson earned a turnover penalty at the ruck, which resulted in the Arrows camping inside the Glendale half for another fifteen minutes.
The mounting pressure overwhelmed the visitors as winger Harley Davidson muffed a probing kick from Arrows flyhalf Patrick Parfrey. The Arrows kick chase quickly swarmed the loose ball, drawing a professional foul that resulted in a penalty try. Canadian international Kainoa Lloyd then capped off a successful eighty minutes with a simple score off of the scrum. Richardson nailed the extras at the final whistle to bring the final score to 40-18.
Although Glendale were far from full strength, the Arrows laid down a serious marker that every team in Major League Rugby will undoubtedly notice. Ontario’s inclusion into the second season of Major League Rugby seems imminent – with performances similar to Sunday, they will certainly turn some heads north of the border.