The Toronto Arrows wrapped up a difficult Major League Rugby season spent entirely on the road with a 28-17 loss to the New England Free Jacks on Sunday.
Mistakes and an inability to defend New England’s rolling maul on the day cost Toronto, which scored 14 late points after going down 28-3.
The Arrows (5-11-0) have spent the past four months south of the border, sharing facilities with Rugby ATL in suburban Atlanta because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Most of the Arrows’ travelling party will return home Tuesday. Veteran lock Mike Sheppard will have a different look when he arrives, having shaved off his luxuriant beard.
Calling it a “unique experience,” scrum half Andrew Ferguson said he will remember the camaraderie among the players this season.
“Obviously there was a lot of adversity and trials and tribulations that we faced,” he said before the game. “No other team has done this. I don’t know necessarily we were even prepared to do this. So there was always going to be some hiccups along the way. But the way that the guys responded and being together day-in day-out, 35 of your good buddies, that’s going to be something that I’m going to remember forever.
“I think everybody here’s going to walk away learning quite a bit from this.”
With the 2020 season called off after just five games owing to the pandemic, the Arrows have not played at home since June 2, 2019.
Sunday saw Tomy de la Vega and Joaquin Tuculet score tries for Toronto, which trailed 14-3 at the half on a humid, 26-degree Celsius afternoon at Lupo Family Field at Life University. Sam Malcolm kicked a penalty and Ferguson added a conversion. Toronto also got an automatic conversion for a try scored under the posts.
New England (9-6-0) scored four tries with fly half Beaudein Waaka kicking the conversions.
An early stalemate ended in the 18th minute when Malcolm put Toronto ahead 3-0 with a penalty off a New England scrum infraction.
After a Toronto penalty for side entry at the breakdown, the Free Jacks kicked for the corner and scored off a rolling maul from the ensuing lineout with hooker Stephan Coetzee touching down for a converted try and 7-3 lead after 30 minutes.
The play was repeated five minutes later, this time after a Toronto offside call, with flanker Vili Toluta’u at the bottom of the maul with the ball.
The Arrows squandered a chance to reduce the deficit with the half coming to an end when, after kicking for touch following a high tackle on Malcolm, the lineout throw-in near the New England goal-line wasn’t straight.
His left thigh bandaged, Malcolm had a noticeable limp when he came out for the second half. The 25-year-old New Zealander only lasted seven minutes before leaving.
Jason Higgins came on as scrum half, allowing Ferguson to shift to fly half as the rain started to come down.
Another Arrows scoring chance was wasted with a turnover near the New England try-line.
The New England maul led to another try in the 54th minute, with Harry Barlow scoring in the corner when the ball came out from the forwards, as the Free Jacks upped their lead to 21-3. Four minutes later, it was more of the same with Conor Kindregan touching down as Toronto was unable to halt the maul.
Two late tries, by de la Vega in the 61st and Tuculet in the 74th, reduced New England’s advantage to 28-17.
Toronto was coming off a 34-28 win over OId Glory DC that snapped a five-game losing streak. The Free Jacks downed Rugby United New York 22-6 last time out and have now won five of their past six, a run that started with a 14-12 win over the Arrows on May 29.
Six Arrows, including co-captains Lucas Rumball and Ben LeSage, played in Canada’s 70-14 loss to England in London on Saturday. Toronto has been without a dozen players — nine Canadians and three Uruguayans — during the July tests.
Still, Toronto director of rugby Chris Silverthorn was able to field a matchday 23 that included 10 internationals — six from Canada and four from Argentina.
Newly signed back Alex Russell, a product of the Rugby Canada national development academy, made his Arrows debut off the bench midway through the second half.
New England Free Jacks lock Josh Larsen is also with Canada.