MARIETTA, Ga. — Returning to action after an absence of more than a year, the Toronto Arrows were beaten 21-14 by Rugby ATL in their Major League Rugby season opener Saturday.
The game at Life University's Lupo Family Field was Toronto's first since March 6, 2020, when it lost 22-19 at the Colorado Raptors. The league cancelled then cancelled the season due to the global pandemic.
Trailing 21-14, Toronto endured a long period of Atlanta dominance late in the second half. But with five minutes remaining, the Arrows returned fire with a fine run down the right flank by Uruguayan winger Leandro Leivas.
Atlanta was penalized near its goal-line, allowing Toronto to kick for touch and set up a lineout. But the Arrows were penalized for an infraction at the breakdown as they looked to tie the score after winning the lineout.
A subsequent Toronto attack was negated by another penalty before a limited number of fans in the stands.
The Arrows will be staying in the Atlanta suburb for some time, taking up residence there due to pandemic-related border restrictions. Toronto's travelling party of 30 players and eight staff will spend the first few weeks in a hotel, reviewing other local housing options after that.
The hope is the third-year team may be able to return home to host games at some point in the season.
Due to constraints on training back home, the Arrows went into the match without playing any pre-season games.
Toronto led 7-0 and 14-7 but trailed 21-14 at the half.
Jack McRogers and Tomas de la Vega scored tries for Toronto. Andrew Ferguson kicked two conversions.
Chance Wenglewski, Johan Momsen and Nethling Gericke scored tries for Rugby ATL. Bautista Ezcurra kicked three conversions.
Argentine newcomer Gaston Cortes made his debut for the Arrows, starting at tighthead prop.
The teams traded tries early and were tied at 7-7 after seven minutes with McRogers opening the scoring for Toronto with a slashing run at the goal-line. The Arrows went ahead 14-7 in the 12th after de la Vega crashed over following a rolling maul, with Atlanta tying it up 10 minutes later on another successful attack by the forwards.
Minutes later Ezcurra saw his penalty kick attempt hit the post and go wide.
There was a lengthy delay with 11:43 remaining in the first half as Atlanta winger Harley Davidson was taken off by stretcher after a nasty collision. Davidson was taken to a local hospital.
When the game resumed, Ferguson missed a kickable penalty in the 32nd minute. Atlanta pulled ahead 21-14 just before the end of the half, converting another rolling maul from a lineout.
A Toronto try by Cortes was called back for a double movement after the Arrows laid siege to the Atlanta goal-line 10 minutes into the second half.
Atlanta's starting 15 included Canadian flanker Matt Heaton.
The Arrows were atop the Eastern Conference at 4-1-0 when the 2020 campaign was cancelled in mid-March due to the pandemic. It was a sudden end to the league's third season.
Rugby ATL went 2-3-0 last year in its inaugural MLR campaign.
Toronto's other South American newcomers — Joaquin Tuculet, Manuel Montero and Juan Cruz Gonzalez — did not make the matchday 23. Their arrival in Canada was delayed for various reasons including quarantine and visa delays.
The Arrows visit the Utah Warriors next Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2021