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Injured-plagued Arrows rally late to tie Rugby ATL in MLR play

Toronto Arrows Toronto Arrows - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Shane O'Leary's late penalty lifted Toronto into a 34-34 tie with Rugby ATL on Friday, ending the Arrows' seven-game losing streak in Major League Rugby play.

Toronto (1-9-1) went down early and mounted one comeback after another, finally catching Atlanta (5-5-1).

After O'Leary's boot tied it with three minutes remaining, Atlanta opted not to go for a kickable penalty in the dying minutes and tried unsuccessfully instead for a try. The Arrows' final attack ended with a player going out of bounds.

Toronto, whose lone win of the season was a 27-26 decision at the expansion Chicago Hounds on March 11, was coming off a bye week. Atlanta arrived having won three of its last four outings.

Avery Oitomen, Mitch Richardson, Ross Braude and D'Shawn Bowen scored tries for Toronto on a warm but windy evening at York Lions Stadium, where it was 26 degrees Celsius at kickoff. O'Leary kicked two conversions and two penalties. Toronto also got two automatic conversions for tries scored under the posts.

Alex Maughan, Seth Purdey and Canadians Matt Heaton and Jack Shaw scored tries for Atlanta, which led 17-10 at the half. Duncan van Schalkwyk booted four conversions and two penalties.

Trailing 31-24, the Arrows were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes in the 66th minute when replacement prop Isaac Salmon was sin-binned for a high tackle. Atlanta kicked the ensuing penalty to stretch its lead to 34-24.

A try under the posts by Bowen, after Toronto pilfered the ball at the breakdown closed the gap to 34-31 in the 68th minute.

The Arrows had a poor start, down 10-0 after seven minutes. The home side had a chance to respond, with a driving maul taking it within metres of a try but Atlanta fended off the attack.

It was 17-0 after 15 minutes when Maughan went over at the back of a driving maul after taking advantage of a Toronto penalty to kick deep into Arrows territory. Atlanta again rebuffed a multi-phase Toronto attack deep in its territory.

The Arrows escaped in the 29th minute when Atlanta scrum half Niall Saunders fumbled the ball as he attempted to touch it down for a try. A minute later Bowen had an open path to the Atlanta try-line only to drop the ball.

Toronto finally got on the board in the 33rd minute when Atlanta could not handle a soaring O'Leary up-and-under kick in the wind and Oitomen got to the ball first for a converted try that cut the margin to 17-7.

A 40-metre penalty by O'Leary, kicking with the wind at his back, made it 17-10 at the break.

Atlanta had 51 percent possession in the first half with the Arrows having to make 106 tackles compared to just 51 for the visitors.

Toronto pulled even in the 48th minute after Lolani Faleiva stole the ball and the six-foot-four 285-pound prop for New Zealand rumbled into Atlanta territory with Richardson eventually capping off the attack by touching down under the posts to tie it at 17-17.

The Arrows could not handle the ensuing restart and Shaw, a former Canadian under-20 player, scored a converted try for a 24-17 Atlanta lead. After a Toronto pass was intercepted, Purdey's converted try made it 31-17.

A try by Braude, normally the starting scrum half but a replacement off the bench Saturday, scored in the 62nd minute with O'Leary's conversion from the sideline cutting the Atlanta lead to 31-24.

Toronto was without the injured Nic Benn, Ciaran Breen, Cole Davis, Mitch Eadie, Fabian Goodall, Nik Hildebrand, Shay Kerry, Sam Malcolm, Conan O’Donnell, Gene Syminton, Corey Thomas and Micaiah Torrance-Read for Friday's game.

Despite the long injury list, the Arrows matchday 23 included 10 internationals, eight from Canada and one each from Chile and Ireland. But centre Noel Reid, the Irish international, lasted only a few minutes before having to leave through injury.

Arrows captain Lucas Rumball and fellow back-rower Travis Larsen both marked their 50th MLR caps. All of Rumball's appearances have come in Toronto colours.

Larsen was acquired in September from the Seattle Seawolves. He previously had stints with Austin, Old Glory D.C. and San Diego.

Scrum half Will Grant and hooker Tyler Wong made their first Arrows starts.

Toronto and Rugby ATL have close ties, with the Arrows relocating to Atlanta during the 2021 season due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. The Arrows used Atlanta's training base and stadium.

As in past seasons, the Arrows started on the road due to the Canadian winter. They played their first six games away from home, going 1-5-0.

Toronto has five games remaining, four of which are home. It next hosts Old Glory D.C. on May 18


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2023