TORONTO — Pandemic permitting, the Toronto Arrows will open their 2021 Major League Rugby season March 28 at the San Diego Legion.
Unlike the past two seasons, Toronto fans won’t have to wait long to see the Arrows if all goes according to plan. The club’s home opener is set for April 10 against the New England Free Jacks, following an April 3 date in Atlanta.
That’s because the season starts later — March 20 instead of Feb. 8 last year — with the league looking for more time for COVID-19 to subside.
Toronto played its first eight games on the road in its inaugural 2019 campaign to avoid winter before opening at home April 7 — the first of eight straight home contests. In 2020, the Arrows were set to play their first seven games on the road, only to see the league shut down in mid-March, five games in.
There is no word yet on Toronto’s home venue for 2021. The team split between York University and Lamport Stadium in the past.
MLR commissioner George Killebrew told reporters that the Arrows are having conversations with other cities to play out of, if needed.
“It’s not really just a Toronto issue … We have two teams in the state of California that is closed right now,” he said. “So we’re dealing with those on a real-time basis. But there are a lot of different plans that we’re keeping kind of in the drawer but will bring them out if we need to, and that includes the Toronto situation as well.”
Entering its fourth season, MLR will feature 13 teams competing over 18 weeks. New teams are the L.A. Giltinis and Dallas Jackals with the Colorado Raptors announcing last April they were dropping out of the league.
Split into two conferences, the top two seeds in each division will qualify for the playoffs with the championship game set for Aug. 1.
“There’s going to be hiccups, just so you know,” Killebrew said. “There’s going to be change. We’re not operating in normal times.”
The Eastern Conference features the Arrows along with Rugby ATL (Atlanta), New England Free Jacks, NOLA Gold (New Orleans), Old Glory (Washington) DC and Rugby United New York. The Western Conference consists of the Austin Gilgronis, Dallas Jackals, Houston SaberCats, L.A. Giltinis, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors.
Each team will play a 16-game regular-season schedule, with two bye weeks each.
The league is an important training ground for Rugby Canada, with some 50 players scattered around the league last season.
Many were at the Arrows, who expect to open training camp the beginning of February.
Arrows flanker Lucas Rumball said he is looking forward to getting back to “some sense of normalcy.”
“It’s going to be simply training, working hard with the guys. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do that so I’m really just excited to get back into it, have a great pre-season and get the season running.”
MLR has set up a COVID Task Force consisting of medical advisers and league officials to oversee policies and procedures that ensure the safety of athletes, fans, and staff.
Toronto Arrows 2021 Schedule (All times ET)
28: Toronto at San Diego Legion, 5 p.m.
3: Toronto at Rugby ATL, 7 p.m.
10: New England Free Jacks at Toronto, noon
17: Old Glory DC at Toronto, noon
25: Toronto at Rugby United New York, 2 p.m.
2: NOLA Gold at Toronto, noon
9: Austin Gilgronis at Toronto, noon
23: Toronto at Seattle Seawolves, 8 p.m.
29: Toronto at New England Free Jacks, 4 p.m.
6: Rugby ATL at Toronto, noon
12: Toronto at Old Glory DC, 5 p.m.
20: Utah Warriors at Toronto, noon
26: Toronto at NOLA Gold, 8 p.m.
4: Rugby United New York at Toronto, 6 p.m.
11: Dallas Jackals at Toronto, noon
18: Toronto at New England Free Jacks, 4 p.m. ET
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2020
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press