The New Orleans Gold took a 36-31 win over the Toronto Arrows in the first game of the 2019 Major League Rugby season and the first ever regular season match for the expansion Arrows side. It was a thrilling if sloppy match, with Toronto falling just short after coming back from a 24-7 halftime deficit.
Toronto’s opening moments of professional rugby could hardly have been any worse. A miscommunication saw them drop the kickoff and with barely a minute ticked over Scott Gale was over for the first try of the 2019 MLR season. It was a wide attack and soft hands from Cam Dolan that made the score with JP Eloff nailing the conversion.
The shock seemed to wear off after a brief hydration break and John Moonlight was the first to get his name on the scoring sheet for Toronto. Sustained possession opened some space out wide and the flanker spun out of one tackle and had enough momentum to cross the line. Sam Malcolm stepped up to land the extras.
Defense in the wide channels was an issue for Toronto in the first half and the Gold capitalized with a try to Tim Maupin, Dolan again the link man executing the two-on-one to perfection. It got worse for Toronto as fullback Jack Evans was binned for a trip on Maupin, and within moments Eric Howard was in from close range.
Con Foley wrapped up the bonus point with still five minutes to play before the break, the Arrows left grasping at air as Kyle Baillie and Holden Yungert combined with a give-and-go to put the Australian clean through. New Orleans nearly had a fifth try but Sheppard came up with a big tackle to save the day and leave the score 24-7 at halftime.
Whatever was said at the intermission seemed to wake the Arrows from their slumber and they would control possession for the next 20 minutes. Two scores would come, both by winger Dan Moor after the forwards did the hard yards and dragged in the NOLA defense. Shawn Windsor joined the line to make the first with slick hands from Spencer Jones sending Moor free for the second.
New Orleans finally got a sniff of the ball as the clock approached 70 minutes and it was JP Eloff who had just enough speed to beat Jamie Leveridge to the line. A dramatic moment turn of events followed as Maupin deflected a pass in the red zone and referee Scott Green appropriately dispatched him to the bin and awarded a penalty try.
From the restart the Arrows gathered but Riley DiNardo’s clearance would not find safety. The Gold got hands to the ball and Billy Stewart hacked the charge-down ahead for Tristan Blewett to dive on for the decisive score. Teenage flyer Avery Oitomen crossed with his first touch of the ball to make for a grandstand finish but a loose pass evaded the Arrows backs and brought on the final whistle much to the delight of the Gold faithful.
The Arrows will have a week off to reflect on their mistakes but can take some consolation from two losing bonus points. The Gold are straight back at it as they host the Glendale Raptors next Saturday. If the opening match is any indication there is a fierce battle for spots in the Quarter Final ahead with NOLA leaving no doubt that they are contenders.