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Injury bug forces Toronto Arrows to sign eighth scrum half of challenging season

TORONTO — Add Toronto Arrows scrum halves to baby formula, semiconductor chips, aluminum and other things in short supply these days. On Thursday, the Major League Rugby team signed its eighth scrum half of the season.
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In his first year as Toronto Arrows head coach, Peter Smith, seen in a handout photo, has had to deal with a string of injuries. But with four games remaining in the Major League Rugby regular season, including Saturday’s matchup against the visiting Dallas Jackals, Smith still has his eye on the playoffs. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Toronto Arrows, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO — Add Toronto Arrows scrum halves to baby formula, semiconductor chips, aluminum and other things in short supply these days.

On Thursday, the Major League Rugby team signed its eighth scrum half of the season. And to do that, it had to bring 33-year-old Jamie Mackenzie out of the broadcast booth ahead of Saturday's game against the visiting Dallas Jackals.

Injuries have seen Toronto go through seven scrum halves already in Ross Braude, Chris Bell, Cole Brown, Andrew Ferguson and Sam Reimer with Gord McRorie and Riley DiNardo signing for short stints.

Mackenzie retired in November, after a long-term hip injury sidelined him for the entire 2021 Arrows season. But he was brought back after the 22-year-old Brown, who made his club debut as a starter last week against Rugby New York, suffered a lower body injury.

“He knows this team well, both from his three years as a player and from his work calling our games from the broadcast booth so far this season, and I’m confident he won’t miss a beat as he gets into lockstep with his teammates,” said Arrows COO and GM Mark Winokur.

“To lose so many players at one position is an anomaly — I doubt we’ll ever see anything like this again — but we can’t dwell on these sorts of hardships and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to be creative in how we fill the gaps, and Jamie is the perfect fit; a player with the right experience and right attitude."

Mackenzie has earned 21 caps for Canada and has been to three Rugby World Cups (2011, 2015 and 2019). 

On the plus side, Braude is back from a lower-body injury and will start Saturday with 19-year-old Reimer his backup. Reimer made his debut off the bench last weekend, becoming the third teenager to play for the club, following Avery Oitomen (2019) and Kobe Faust (2021).

Eleven Arrows players remain on the injured reserve: backs Bell, Brown, Faust, Andrew Ferguson, Brandan Ferguson, Spencer Jones, Sam Malcolm, Mitch Richardson, Dennon Robinson-Bartlett and forwards Marcello Wainwright and Mason Flesch.

"It's been crazy, hasn't it," Toronto coach Peter Smith said of the injury bug. "We started the season with a pretty good squad. And then at various points of the season, we didn't have a whole lot of players to pick from.

"But people got opportunities and I think some of our players really stood up in the face of those opportunities."

With just four regular-season games remaining, Smith knows Toronto (6-6-0) need to maximize points each time out in the playoff hunt. 

"There's always hope and there's always life. But now we've got to acknowledge there's no second chances at all," said Smith. "And we've got to be the best we can be every single week."

While expansion Dallas (0-13-0) has conceded 50-plus points in each of its last four games, Smith is not taking the Jackals lightly.

"A very, very talented team who have been unlucky and on the end of some pretty rough outings here and there," said the Australian. "All they want to do is come out and play with pride and show what they're capable of doing."

The Arrows' playoff hopes were dented in last week's 41-17 loss to visiting Rugby New York. The result moved the New Yorkers (8-4-0, 42 points) past Rugby ATL (8-4-0, 41 points) into second place in the Eastern Conference.

The Arrows are fourth, 11 points behind Rugby ATL. The New England Free Jacks (11-1-0, 52 points) top the East.

The No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference get a first-round playoff bye, awaiting the winner of the matchup between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each conference.

After Dallas, Toronto hosts New England, then visits Rugby ATL before wrapping up regular-season play against Old Glory DC.

With the Arrows midway through a stretch of three games in 12 days, Smith has made changes to the lineup he used against New York.

Will Kelly, Conor McCann, James O’Neill and John Sheridan join Braude in returning to the starting 15. Forwards Siaki Vikilani and Adrian Wadden make their first starts of the season.

With forwards Mike Sheppard and Lucas Rumball rested and Malcolm unavailable with an upper-body injury, Guiseppe du Toit takes over as captain with hooker Jack McRogers deputizing as vice-captain.

Toronto's matchday 23 still features 13 full internationals: 11 from Canada and one each from Argentina and Uruguay.

Off the rugby field, Smith has additional duties as a new father. His fiancée Maya gave birth to their first child, son Hayden, on April 25.

"Life changed a little bit when he popped out, certainly," said Smith. "It's been amazing, it really has."  


Toronto Arrows Lineup 

Lolani Faleiva, Jack McRogers, Tyler Rowland, Adrian Wadden, Paul Ciulini, Tomas de la Vega, James O’Neill, Siaki Vikilani, Ross Braude, Will Kelly, John Sheridan, Guiseppe du Toit (capt.), Conor McCann, Matt Hood, Gaston Mieres.

Replacements

Andrew Quattrin, Cole Keith, Isaac Salmon, Kyle Baillie, Ronan Foley, Sam Reimer, Ueta Tufuga, Mitch Voralek.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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