It wasn’t pretty but the Toronto Arrows finally got their first Major League Rugby home win out of the way as they beat the Houston SaberCats 35-21 at York Alumni Field on Sunday afternoon. The home side shot out to a big early lead only to see it disappear before finally pulling away at the end.
Houston fans would have had grave concerns after the first half-hour. Kolby Francis peeled around an unguarded blindside on a maul for the first try after only 4 minutes. The officials somehow missed Lucas Rumball touching down under the posts but from the ensuing scrum Theo Sauder had no trouble stepping past Malacchi Esdale on a one-on-one.
Toronto’s forwards continued to dominate, advancing methodically until another lineout drive won points. It was a textbook effort with Andrew Quattrin at the book awarded the try. Sam Malcolm slotted his third conversion from a tough angle to make it 21-0.
Something stirred inside the SaberCats and they suddenly came roaring back. Esdale came in off his wing to make the extra man on a first phase attack. It was stopped just short but the ball was recycled quickly and when Avery Oitomen shot out of the line, Zach Pangelinan took full advantage.
A second try came on the stroke of halftime, and it was one the Arrows would like to soon forget. Osea Kolinisau checked his run on the right side and cut directly across the pitch to the left. Toronto’s defense stood mesmerised as the Fijian pulled in two and sent Pat O’Toole free, the hooker outstripping Jamie Mackenzie to the corner.
The SaberCats had their tails up and it was the scrum that had its say immediately following the intermission. Frustrated in the first half, at a 5-meter put-in they got the shove on and when the Arrows pack spun away the referee when under the sticks for the penalty try.
With the scores now level Toronto were in danger of letting it slip away but a handling error in the backline spilled possession and gave the Arrows an opportunity they would not miss out on. The pack put the pressure on until Mike Sheppard drove through the fringe defense to score the go-ahead try.
It was another mistake that dealt a body blow to the SaberCats. Rob Brouwer ripped the ball clean from Kolinisau in the shadow of Toronto’s posts, then on the counter-attack a poor pass went to deck and Kainoa Lloyd snapped it up, sprinting 60 meters straight up the field to touch down under the posts. Guiseppe du Toit added his second conversion in the absence of Sam Malcolm, who had limped off earlier with an ankle problem, and there would be no further scoring as the game lost its shape.
The Arrows move to within striking distance of Glendale and will face a far more significant challenge when the Seattle Seawolves land in Toronto next Sunday. The SaberCats have now slipped below Utah into 8th place and will host the San Diego Legion at Dyer Stadium in Houston while AVEVA Stadium’s turf is given more time to settle.
Tries – K. Francis (4’), T. Sauder (19’), A. Quattrin (30’), M. Sheppard (52′), K. Lloyd (68′)
Cons – S. Malcolm 3/3 (5’, 20’, 31’), G. du Toit 2/2 (53′, 69′)
Tries – Z. Pangelinan (35’), P. O’Toole (40’), Penalty try (44′)
Cons – S. Windsor 2/2 (36’, 40’)
1 Rob Brouwer (17 Pat Lynott 70′), 2 Andrew Quattrin (16 Steven Ng 53′), 3 Cole Keith (18 Morgan Mitchell 53′), 4 Mike Sheppard, 5 Kolby Francis (19 Tom van Horne 70′), 6 Lucas Rumball, 7 Peter Milazzo, 8 Marcello Wainwright (20 John Moonlight 63′), 9 Jamie Mackenzie (21 Riley DiNardo 63′), 10 Sam Malcolm (23 Shawn Windsor 38’), 11 Leandro Leivas, 12 Guiseppe du Toit, 13 Dan Moor (capt.), 14 Avery Oitomen (22 Kainoa Lloyd 63′), 15 Theo Sauder
1 Jamie Dever (17 Mateo Sanguinetti 53′), 2 Pat O’Toole (16 Amro Gouda 78′), 3 Paul Mullen (18 Charlie Connolly 53′), 4 Diego Magno (20 Chris Coyle 71′), 5 Victor Comptat (19 Matt Trouville 62′), 6 Luke Beauchamp (capt.), 7 Alejandro Nieto (21 Cecil Garber 62′), 8 Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, 9 Connor Murphy, 10 Sam Windsor, 11 Malacchi Esdale, 12 Thretton Palamo, 13 Osea Kolinisau (22 Max Tacket 75′), 14 Deion Mikesell, 15 Zach Pangelinan (23 Joe Kelly 62′)
Referee: Derek Summers (USAR)
Assistants: Moe Chaudhry (RC) & Peter Pender (RC)