Following a tough Mothers’ Day loss to the New England Free Jacks, Old Glory will look to return to form with what should be a comparatively painless match against the Toronto Arrows.
Last weekend’s match was a difficult one, in which we struggled against an extremely well put together New England side which smartly exploited our weaknesses and mistakes to run up the score. Combine that with our guests’ stalwart defending and it made for a long afternoon out at Segra Field. With those facts in mind, as well as the 24-42 final scoreline, we will swiftly move on to look at first midweek match of the season.
If the Free Jacks constituted stiff opposition, the Arrows should be comparatively limp. They currently sit bottom of the Eastern Conference with just 11 points to their name from as many games, having scored the fewest tries in Major League Rugby (22) and conceded the most (55). They have won just one match this season, narrowly defeating the Chicago Hounds (26-27) back in March, but notably achieved the first tie of the MLR season, holding Rugby ATL to a cool 34 points each last weekend.
The Arrows have the fewest points of any team in MLR besides the Hounds, and have the worst points differential to match, stats which Old Glory contributed by slapping the Canadians by a score of 29-3 when we faced off at Segra Field back in March. The boys rallied after conceding an early penalty, with tries from Danny Tusitala, Marcos Young, Nic Souchon, and Willie Talataina helping to turn around the early deficit. A memorable performance from Tito Diaz Bonilla, who was responsible for almost a third of the team’s points on his own, sealed the deal, taking our record to an even 2-2 in the season’s early stages.
That first match against the Arrow’s was among our most complete performances of the year, with our offense earning an important four-try bonus point while the defence produced its best display of the year, conceding just one penalty in 80 minutes of rugby, the same number conceded in the first forty minutes of our recent match against the Dallas Jackals.
There are so many sports writing cliches I could use to describe the match. We cooked with gas, ran like a well-oiled machine, brought our A-game, but the most relevant of these in the case of this match and our season as a whole may be that defence wins championships.
Looking at how tight the MLR Eastern Conference is at the minute, with the gap between second and fifth place totting up to just five points, there is every chance that points differential could make the difference between qualifying for the playoffs or taking an early summer holiday. Back in March when we first faced the Arrows, Old Glory made 215 tackles (18 each for Fa’anana-Schultz and Souchon). From the scoreline, you might be surprised to learn that Toronto enjoyed most of the possession but found themselves struggling to make use of it. As the Arrow’s play doesn’t seem to have progressed much since March, Thursday night could mark a great opportunity to shoot for a shutout and run up our own score in an attempt to right our current negative points difference (-10).
All told, I’d bet on Old Glory. To say that the Arrows have had a difficult season would be catastrophic understatement. While ours hasn’t necessarily been easy at times, I would be surprised if we didn’t manage to bring a result back from Canada, notwithstanding the quick turnaround from Sunday’s match.
To round off, let’s look at some ones to watch. The only Arrow who has managed to score against Old Glory this season is talismanic fly half Sam Malcolm, one of MLR’s all time top points scorers and Toronto’s only real attacking threat. The OGs did well to keep him quiet, however, and will want to do the same this week.
For Old Glory, Niko Jones made an impressive at flanker on the weekend, setting up Collin Grosse’s second half try. While he may be set to get some rest on Thursday evening after playing most of the eighty minutes against the Free Jacks, he will certainly be one to keep an eye on if he does come on. The same can be said for Owen Sheehy, whose late try showed off what he does best: run. When he first got his hands on the ball about 20m out from the try line, there didn’t seem to be a worthwhile gap to run into, but he found and exploited one, showing off his pace to dot down his first professional try. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start in the back three alongside Tito Diaz Bonilla and Marcos Young on Thursday night.
Finally, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz dominated in our last Toronto match. Take one look at the stat sheets, you’ll find his name near the top of every list. 18 tackles, the most on the pitch. 20 carries, also the most on the pitch. 124 running meters, the third most on the pitch. Our captain has been on top form in recent weeks, so I fully expect him to carry that momentum into Thursday night.
by Arthur Ferridge, @rthur_ferridge