MATCH PREVIEW: ARROWS IN TOWN TO FACE LEGION FOR FIRST TIME
SAN DIEGO – The 4-1 San Diego Legion returns to Torero Stadium Sunday, March 10 – 21 days since the last home game – for the first Major League Rugby meeting with 2019 newcomers Toronto Arrows (2-3). Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. PT.
The Legion, while recuperating from five consecutive match weeks on a Week 6 bye, saw NOLA Gold reclaim top spot in the League standings from home. Still two points ahead of third-place Seattle Seawolves, Head Coach Rob Hoadley’s crew is just three points behind the leaders with a superior point differential of plus-45 to NOLA’s plus-23.
“We are in the early stages of our development and everyone is fully aware of that,” Hoadley remarked. “The most impressive thing is that, even in victory, this team is focused solely on how we can improve and play up to the high standards we set for ourselves.”
TORMENTORS OF TORERO
The four-try bonus point earned in under 40 minutes in Texas highlighted the 45-17 Week 5 defeat of Austin Elite Rugby (the second win against a Lone Star State opponent in 2019). A stop-start second half featuring successive penalties and a missed opportunity in the form of a man-advantage were minor causes for concern, but the result was never in doubt thanks to switched-on reserves and sights locked on a 4-1 record.
It was the second bonus point of the season after a close loss to Rugby United New York to open the campaign. The Arrows, on the other hand, have secured four in two losses and one victory courtesy of a potent offense for a sixth-place standing. Toronto has scored 16 tries and a third-best 128 total points with fly half Sam Malcolm contributing 46 points from the kicking tee.
A winter storm in Colorado did not do the Arrows any favors last week, and neither did the Glendale Raptors, who shut out the visitors. As their head coach, Chris Silverthorn, said the next day, “rugby is a summer sport” in Canada. Toronto did not adapt to the conditions well enough to clear the goose egg on the scoreboard, but five Canadian international forwards pushed the scrum to dominance.
“Toronto are a very well-drilled and experienced team,” Hoadley sad. “Last year they played a number of the MLR teams and did very well, so we knew they had a lot to offer in this League. It has been great to see their impact so far.”
The Arrows are nearly at the end of an eight-match streak of away games before they set up camp in Toronto for the final eight. The Legion is back at Torero Stadium this week in the first of four remaining home matches, and the last in San Diego until Week 11, April 7.
The Legion attack is closer to full strength this weekend with returning international call-ups Dylan Audsley, Nick Boyer, Kapeli Pifeleti, and Mike Te’o. Pifeleti earned his USA test debut last weekend and came on as a reserve Friday night in the final match of the Americas Rugby Championship. Te’o was instrumental as a starting winger, surprising the Canadian defense with a patented line break inside his own half that led to the USA’s game-winning try.
The upward trajectory in performance and results has come down to consistency in selection, as well match-day reserves competing for places in the starting roster with every minute of time on the field. Winger Savenaca Totovosau’s first professional try came after 20 minutes of play against Austin, and back-rowers Alec Barton; Siaosi Mahoni; and Sione Tu’ihalamaka saved miles off of the starters’ legs in valiant fashion.
Fakaosi Pifeleti earns his second start of the season in the front row as his brother awaits an MLR return from the bench. New signing Jordan Manihera’s MLR baptism by fire sees him wear No. 8 against a strong Toronto pack behind Devin Short and Psalm Wooching in the back row.
“Jordan is equally at home playing blindside flanker (6) or No. 8,” Hoadley said of the newest member of the Legion. “We’ve been building great strength in the back row with the development of our young players there as well as the return of Psalm Wooching in the last couple of weeks. It’s great to have competition for places throughout this long season.”
Nate Augspurger’s on-the-ball awareness came in handy from the scrum half position last time out as Boyer served national team duty, leading to him retaining his place in the No. 9 shirt. Kyle Rogers also put in an 80-minute shift at full back filling in for Te’o, while Jasa Veremalua (wing) was barely kept quiet in his first game since Week 3. Ryan Matyas moves to the outside center position against Toronto alongside JP du Plessis with Audsley and Veremalua on the wings
Looking ahead, the confidence in depth for the Legion could prove to be the difference in any or all of the remaining weeks of the regular season.
“The Arrows have a very strong scrum that provides a platform for them and have been incredibly clinical when given opportunities to score,” Hoadley said.
“The quality of play in the MLR has been raised since last year and the inclusion of Toronto and New York. It is a long season and will come down to who can maintain consistency throughout the campaign and keep finding ways to improve leading into the playoffs.”
Tickets are still available for Sunday’s match at Torero Stadium, including the $99 Family 4-Pack of four premiere level tickets; four hot dogs and chips; and four sodas in addition to two 40-minute halves of professional rugby. Those not in attendance will be able to watch the live broadcast on CBSSN and ESPN+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. PT.