Canadian rugby has seen its ups and downs in recent times but 2019 will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable in its history. Canada has sent players to professional leagues all over the world but for the first time ever a rugby union team based in this country will take flight in a fully fledged North American professional competition – Major League Rugby.
The Toronto Arrows will play the first eight of their 16 regular season games on the road, beginning in New Orleans on Saturday afternoon (12pm PT, 3pm ET). Their home opener is April 7, also against NOLA, at York Alumni Stadium. All of their games will be broadcast on GameTV, available on basic cable packages across the country.
Their story is well-known by now. Created by Bill Webb and Mark Winokur as an evolution of the highly successful Ontario Blues in the Canadian Rugby Championship, the Arrows currently feature a roster of 34 players, only six of whom are not currently eligible for Canada. Among the imports are two Uruguayan wingers, three New Zealanders, and England under-20 forward Jack Nay who will arrive soon on loan from Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership.
New stars will emerge but the team already features some of the brightest names in Canadian rugby, with talent imported from across the country. Sussex, New Brunswick, native Cole Keith is already an imposing figure at the age of just 21. Vancouver’s Theo Sauder proved one of the stars of November’s World Cup Qualifying series having debuted just a few months earlier. There are home town favourites in Lucas Rumball and Dan Moor, and the return of a certain John Moonlight from semi-retirement.
Toronto is one of two expansion teams as MLR enters its second season. Rugby United New York is the other, joining established teams from Austin (Elite), Houston (SaberCats), Denver (Glendale Raptors), Seattle (Seawolves), San Diego (Legion), New Orleans (NOLA Gold), and Salt Lake City (Utah Warriors). Boston, Atlanta, and Washington DC – at a minimum – will officially join the league in 2020.
The Arrows have been tipped for success by virtually every pundit across the continent but Canada’s interests will not be limited to their home team. There are another 13 Canadians spread across teams south of the border, with three more currently on trial.
Seattle was the team of choice for Canadian fans in the 2018 season, and they did not disappoint. The Seawolves were led by player-coach Phil Mack who inspired them to the inaugural MLR Final, defeating the Glendale Raptors to become the first team to lift the MLR Shield.
There were seven Canadians on Seattle’s roster in 2018 and six this season, with Djustice Sears-Duru a new addition following the departures of Ray Barkwill and Mozac Samson. Cam Polson and Brock Staller were regulars last season while Nakai Penny and George Barton impressed in supporting roles.
Three popular Canadian forwards are based in New Orleans this season. Kyle Baillie joins Hubert Buydens and Eric Howard at the Gold this season. The latter was vice-captain in 2018 and led the side in one of their preseason matches. All three will feature heavily for NOLA.
Entering the Canadian market this year in a big way is Austin Elite, who have three Canadians signed up and another three currently getting a good look by management. The Larsen brothers – Josh and Travis – are set to be mainstays in the Austin pack, while Doug Fraser adds to a potent backline. Moe Abdelmonem, Mike Nieuwenhuysen, and Aidan McMullan are hoping to make it six Canucks in the great state of Texas this season.
Glendale were tipped by many to win the competition in 2018 but fell agonisingly short to Seattle in the final. They remain one of the strongest teams and when Noah Barker’s Americas Rugby Championship commitments are done the prop will head to Colorado to help shore up their scrum, perhaps their only weakness from last season.
The regular season runs through the first weekend of June, with Semi-Finals the following week and the Championship Final booked for June 16 – Father’s Day – at a venue yet to be revealed.
Aside from the Arrows matches on GameTV, some of the games will also be available as live streams on Facebook for Canadian viewers. One feature game each week will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
For more information on Major League Rugby, check out their website.