The Year of What If?' and Looking to the Future with the Toronto Arrows
The Toronto Arrows 2020 season ended in a manner that they would rather forget. Having won their opening four games of the season, the Arrows fell to the Colorado Raptors on what would be the final weekend of league action prior to Covid-19 putting a stop to anymore fixtures taking place in 2020.
Seeded second overall in the standings, only surpassed by San Diego who were unbeaten, Toronto led the East and were likely to make the playoffs come the end of regular fixtures. Not even getting the opportunity to play in front of their home fans this year, it will have been the best part of two years when the team next lines up in front of their supporters in Canada.
Chris Silverthorn's side were impressive in their first four road fixtures. Beating Austin, Houston, Seattle and Rugby ATL, it seemed that the side had the makings of a Championship run. Forwards Coach, Aaron Carpenter, who joined the MLR franchise when his professional playing career in England ended, says that he was impressed with how the team fared in the five weeks of games.
"I think we came out flying," Carpenter said. "We put everything in place, the guys responded very well, and it was a short turnaround for the Colorado match, we weren't the same team that we were in the first four games of the season. We just switched off for that one. We have done some meeting with a psychologist and it came up with guys that this was the season of; what if?
"Anything could have been possible, and we have just got to set our sights on the next task, which is 2021. We would like to think that we would have been in the finals, but a lot of things can happen in rugby. You have to turn up every day, ready to fight for everything. We were in a good spot, playing really well. But it is just going to be an asterisk in the history books of MLR that nobody got it."
With international experience around the field, the Arrows had plenty of depth this last year. Lucas Rumball was co-captain of the team, alongside fan favorite and recent retiree Dan Moor. Born and raised in Markham, Ontario, Rumball has represented his country on nearly 40 occasions and played a part for side at the World Cup in Japan last fall.
A major aim of MLR is to ensure the future prosperity of the USA and Canadian national teams. In recent weeks the Arrows have unveiled a new raft of young talent that will be joining them for the 2021 season.
Adrian Wadden joins the team after having spent the last three years in England, playing for university side Leeds Beckett in the top tier of university rugby. Coming from Rugby Canada's Pacific Pride program in British Columbia 19-year-old back row, Siaka Vikilani, who has been a standout in the British Columbia Premiership.
"MLR is another outlet to play some high-level rugby and develop your skills," Lucas Rumball said. "Before this, I was in uni, going back and forth between there and the national team. There was always this lull and when MLR plays, there used to be this lack of rugby in Canada because of the weather and when the internationals were falling.
"You would do months without playing and now, we are going year-round in a training environment, with a bunch of high-level guys, working on those small skills, working with S&C coaches every week. It provides a way better outlet for you to develop your game and to put it on display at the international level as well."
Carpenter too understands how important professional rugby being so close to home is. In his mid-20s, the former Canada international headed to England in order to play the sport full-time. Playing for five second tier sides before concussions ended the forwards playing career, Carpenter is relishing the opportunity to bring the country's best young talent home.
"I just want to keep giving back to the organization," Carpenter said. "We see ourselves as being the step that was never there, giving the Adrian Wadden's, the Tyler Rowlands, those young, Canadian players the chance to make that leap and come back from Europe. Look at Dan Moor as well, being able to come back from the UK and ply his trade.
"We as an organization want to be that option for Canadian talent. The level of play in MLR, year on year, has just continued to improve and as we continue to improve, we will continue to make better rugby players."
Recently retired, Dan Moor came back to Canada after time spent in England as a professional. After completing studies at Oxford University, Moor had trials with English Premiership side Wasps, before playing for then-Championship side Yorkshire Carnegie. Saying goodbye to the professional game in order to pursue opportunities outside of rugby, Carpenter has nothing but praise for the wing.
"He was excellent and originally, was probably not the guy we thought was going to be captain," Carpenter said. "He promoted himself so well and put the team first in everything that he did. The guys saw that, and we thought 'this is the guy', the person we wanted to bat for us at the organization and in the team."
In Canada, small training sessions have been allowed to take place. There is over five months until MLR is set to resume for the competition's fourth season and as a result a lot of training sessions set to take place for the Arrows, with Rumball hopeful of using the time to carry make improvements ahead of another title push.
"We can really take this time to work on stuff that we don't usually have time for during the year," Rumball said. "Whether that is a little bit of personal development on the mental side, some strength and conditioning stuff. It gives guys the time to get rid of lingering injuries, strengthen the areas they need and focus on skills.
"We have the time to do it. There is no real demand on the international or club side of things, so hopefully we take this time to improve ourselves and leave us so much better and ahead of teams when we do start back up."
Written by Joe Harvey
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Major League Rugby Stories from July 15, 2020
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