Canadian sevens international D’Shawn Bowen scored three tries in a losing cause as the New York Ironworkers hung on for a 29-27 win to spoil the Toronto Arrows’ home opener Saturday.
Toronto (1-6-0) opened the season with six straight games on the road.
Bowen, in his Arrows and MLR debut, gave the hometown fans something to celebrate with three highlight-reel tries under the sunshine at York Lions Stadium where the temperature hovered around 5 C.
The pacey Bowen beat five New York players en route to his second try, which tied the game at 17-17 in the 28th minute.
The 26-year-old winger from Toronto make his HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series debut at Dubai in 2021 and represented Canada at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens,
The Ironworkers (4-3-0) dominated the first half but only led 24-17 at the break. The Arrows had to make 77 tackles in the first 40 minutes compared to just 22 for New York.
Toronto rallied in the second half, cutting the deficit to 29-27. New York laid siege to the Arrows try-line in the final minutes but could not convert. Still, it kept the ball away from the Ironworkers’ try-line.
Arrows fly half/fullback Sam Malcolm was hurt in a nasty collision going after a high ball with seven minutes remaining. The Kiwi appeared to be knocked unconscious after hitting the ground, the latest in a long line of Toronto injuries this season.
A groggy Malcolm was helped off the field, with newly signed Canadian international Peter Nelson making his Arrows debut.
Captain Lucas Rumball also scored a try for Toronto. Malcolm kicked two conversions and a penalty.
Tei Walden, Andrew Coe, Fassiu Fuatai and Nick Feakes scored tries for the defending champion Ironworkers. New Zealand-born Jack Heighton booted a penalty and a conversion before taking a knock and giving way to Sam Windsor, who contributed a conversion.
New York also got an automatic conversion for scoring under the posts.
Due to the Canadian climate and the mid-February start to the MLR season, the Arrows traditionally start on the road — which this year produced just one win and five losses. The good news is seven of their remaining nine games are at home.
Injuries have taken their toll on Toronto with Nic Benn (shoulder) and Micaiah Torrance-Read (knee) gone for the season.
Eleven others were unavailable Saturday through injury: Ciaran Breen, Cole Davis, Mitch Eadie, Mason Flesch, Travis Larsen, Conan O’Donnell, Avery Oitomen, Tyler Rowland, Isaac Salmon, Tautalatasi Tasi and Corey Thomas.
Fullback Brenden Black away with the Canadian under-23 side competing at the Tropical 7s tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Lock Adrian Wadden and wing Mitch Richardson returned from injury this week but Eadie, Oitomen, Rowland and Salmon joined the walking wound after suffering concussions in last weekend’s 14-11 loss at the Dallas Jackals.
New York won 39-3 when the teams met Feb. 26 in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
The Ironworkers, who defeated visiting Rugby ATL 31-20 last weekend, started Canadian internationals Quinn Ngawati and Coe on the wing. New York was without injured Samoan international back Ed Fidow.
Canadian international Shane O’Leary also made his debut for the Arrows, who despite the long injury list were able to field 10 internationals in their matchday 23 — eight from Canada and one each from Chile and Ireland.
New York came out with intent and led 10-0 after just 10 minutes on a Heighton penalty and Walden try under the posts, set up by a sweeping Ngawati linebreak.
The visitors were on the verge of adding to the lead but a handling error allowed Toronto scrum half Ross Braude to race down the field, passing to Bowen for the try, cutting the lead to 10-7 after 14 minutes.
New York responded with a converted try from Coe on a well-worked move from a lineout after a well-placed kick. A Malcolm penalty after New York was dinged for a high tackle made it 17-10 in the 21st.
After Bowen tied it, Fuatai crashed over from close range just before the break to give New York a 24-17 lead.
Feakes broke a tackle for a try with the Arrows defence found wanting again before Bowen scored his third, getting to a O’Leary grubber kick.
New York’s Fuatai was sent to the sin-bin in the 51st minute for a high tackle. And Rumball made them pay, touching down soon after to cut the visitors’ lead to 29-27.
The Arrows lost their opening two games to Rugby ATL (17-10) and the Ironworkers before bouncing back to edge the expansion Chicago Hounds. Losses followed to Old Glory D.C. (29-3), the Utah Warriors (47-19) and Dallas Jackals.
Scoring has been a challenge with the Arrows posting a league-worst 73 points in its first six outings. New York, meanwhile, arrived having allowed just 13 tries, tied with the Seattle Seawolves for the lowest in the league.
Toronto hosts the New England Free Jacks next Saturday.