By John Arthur
Members of the Glendale Raptors professional Major League Rugby (MLR) squad traveled to Toronto last weekend, taking on the hometown Ontario Arrows in an exhibition contest. Things kicked off on an unseasonably warm day, the winds calm but pitch temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After a tough exhibition loss to the Collegiate All Americans this summer, the Glendale side is introducing young talent and working to determine where they stand as a cohesive team ahead of the second MLR season.
The Raptors started the match looking strong, with a good defensive push against the Arrows to get the contest underway. Ontario kept up the pressure on offense, however, and found the try zone 11 minutes in. The conversion successful, the Arrows went ahead 7-0. The Raptors responded with an offensive push of their own, Nick Johnson dotting down at 19 minutes. Will Magie’s typically reliable conversion kick was unsuccessful, but the Raptors cut Ontario’s lead to just two points.
Off the line out the Raptors found the try zone again in the 22nd minute, Kelepi Fifita and team rolling the maul in from the five-meter mark. Magie’s conversion was good and Glendale took its first lead of the match, pulling ahead 12-7 over the Arrows. Not to be outdone, Ontario pushed back against a Raptors team that seemed to have found its momentum. The Arrows scored a try and converted at 27 minutes, resulting in another lead change: Ontario back on top 14-12 over the Raptors. The Canadians found the try zone again just five minutes later, shifting the pace of the game back in their favor. Though play as the first half came to a close had become arguably sloppy from both teams, the Arrows dotted down and converted to pull further ahead, 21-12.
The closing moments of the opening 40 minutes saw two costly penalties from Ontario. Electing to attempt a penalty kick, the Raptors’ Magie split the uprights to put three more points in Glendale’s favor. A second penalty moments later revealed frustration on the part of the Arrows – not only erasing what might have been an Ontario try, but giving Magie another shot at a penalty kick. Acing this one as well, the Arrows entered the break with a slight 21-18 advantage over Glendale.
The Ontario side kicked the second half off, and shortly thereafter Raptor Will Magie took a vicious hit, resulting in a brief injury stoppage as he was patched up and attended to by medical staff. Able to finish the match, the tense moments were a portent of a difficult conclusion to the contest for the Colorado squad. The Arrows dotted down at 53 minutes, the result of an exceptional team effort that involved a series of kicks and back door passes. The conversion missed, Ontario extended their lead to 26-18. A yellow card was issued to the home team at 59 minutes for a player safety issue in the counter ruck, but Glendale was unable to capitalize on the man advantage.
The second half play was noticeably slower paced, likely a result of the intense heat, but also by repeated scrum contests, injuries, penalties, and kicking. Ontario’s scrum physicality was exceptional, and a point of confrontation the Raptors struggled to match. The second half was largely a defensive stalemate, though the Arrows had the Raptors on their heels for long periods, while the Glendale side struggled to put together much offensive momentum. Ontario was awarded a penalty try after the 80-minute mark, increasing their lead to 31-18, and then once more well into injury time, dotting down a final try to extend their lead to 38-18. The conversion attempt was successful, the Arrows earning the 40-18 victory.
Raptors Head Coach David Williams was happy to give some of the Raptors’ new talent a chance on the pitch, and certainly acknowledged the potency of the Arrows: “We got beaten by the better team. We hope to see them next season in Major League Rugby,” he said. The fresh faces included two members of the Glendale Academy program: scrumhalf Carlo deNysschen and outside back Siale Maka. Williams was impressed: “We had a number of new players in during the match. They all performed well and it was good to see how they held up at a higher standard of rugby.” As they have over their long history, the Glendale side will learn from the loss. With a couple weeks off before their next exhibition contest, the team will review the Toronto match and get back to training and preparation.
The team’s next match will be against the Denver Barbarians at Infinity Park on October 6. The second exhibition contest will see the Raptors on their home pitch for the first time since the end of last season. The following weekend will see the Raptors back at home, though hosting the Utah Warriors on a newly installed, World Rugby approved turf pitch in Infinity Park’s Open Space. The match will be free and open to the public.
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