Canada's Patrick Parfrey runs the ball during an international rugby match against Russia in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, June 18, 2016. Facing an extended stay in the U.S, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, Toronto Arrows fullback arfrey won't be short of things to do. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Toronto Arrows settle in Atlanta area for start of Major League Rugby season

TORONTO — Facing an extended stay in the U.S. due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, Toronto Arrows fullback Patrick Parfrey won’t be short of things to do.

Away from rugby, the 29-year-old from St. John’s is working on his PhD in clinical epidemiology.

“If there’s downtime, I know what I’ll be doing,” he said.

His thesis is on acute stroke care in Newfoundland.

“It’s bit of a slow process, with playing rugby at the same time,” he said. “But my supervisor committee has been helping me through it, especially in the last couple of months with the distance and all that stuff. It’s been rolling pretty well the last couple of weeks.”

Parfrey and the Arrows were scheduled to fly to Atlanta on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s Major League Rugby season opener against Rugby ATL. The Atlanta area will remain their home until border restrictions are relaxed.

The travelling party of 30 players and eight staff will spend the first few weeks in a hotel in suburban Marietta, home to Life University’s Lupo Family Field where the Atlanta team plays. The Arrows will review other local housing options after that.

League commissioner George Killebrew is grateful the Toronto team is making the sacrifice.

“It shows their grit and their determination, to literally pick up stakes and move out of their country and go to Atlanta, Georgia to get the matches in,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been an unreasonable request by them to say ‘Hey, maybe we should sit this one out’ or something like that.

“But they have done an awesome job in making this happen.”

it hasn’t been easy, given the ever-changing restrictions on both sides of the border. Arrows GM and vice-president Mark Winokur calls it “the most difficult trip I have even tried to pull together.”

Parfrey is happy to be back playing rugby, however, after missing the truncated 2020 MLR season. He was at home doing schoolwork at the start of the year and the season had been cancelled by the time he was slated to return.

“So getting back to the environment and joining my teammates has been a lot of fun the last couple of weeks,” he said.

The Arrows were atop the Eastern Conference at 4-1-0 when the 2020 campaign was cancelled in mid-March. It was a sudden end to the league’s third season, which featured new franchises in Atlanta, New England and Washington, D.C.

In the months that followed, the Colorado Raptors withdrew from the league. The expansion Dallas Jackals and Los Angeles Giltinis came on board although Dallas decided in January to push back its arrival until 2022.

The San Diego Legion has opted to play the 2021 season out of Las Vegas due to pandemic-related restrictions in California.

Parfrey has won 32 caps for Canada, making his debut against the U.S. in Edmonton in May 2013.

An injury replacement for Canada at the 2015 World Cup, he also took part in the 2019 tournament in Japan. That same year, he was named Rugby Canada’s senior player of the year,

In 2015, Parfrey was playing a club game in Newfoundland when the call came to summon him as a World Cup replacement for Connor Braid, who suffered a broken jaw and concussion in a loss to Italy.

Unable to reach Parfrey, Canadian team officials in England eventually called the gym across the street from the field where he was playing and had one of the workers there run on the field to get him off the field.

His teammates weren’t too happy at the intrusion until they heard the reason. Both teams started cheering while Parfrey made a hasty exit to prepare to jump on a plane.

While medical school is on Parfrey’s radar post-rugby, he hopes to get to the 2023 World Cup in France first.

Medicine and rugby run in the family. His father Pat Parfrey, a renowned kidney specialist, is a former Irish international who coached Canada and now serves on Rugby Canada’s board and as its representative on the World Rugby Council.

Patrick’s mother, who died in 2015, was a radiologist.

Patrick is the youngest of four rugby-playing brothers. The other three all represented Canada at different age levels. Kevin earned one cap for Canada.

Patrick’s last match for Canada was against the All Blacks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He has only played a couple of club matches in Newfoundland since.

The return of MLR is good news for Canada coach Kingsley Jones, who estimates some 60 Canadians are involved.

“It’s a great thing for Canadian rugby and the league’s just getting better and better,” said Patrick Parfrey, who like Killebrew hopes Canadians will see a second franchise north of the border soon.

While the Arrows are filled with Canadian talent, there is also South American flair.

South American newcomers to the Arrows this season include Argentina’s Joaquin Tuculet, Manuel Montero, Gaston Cortes and Juan Cruz Gonzalez.

Local restrictions have prevented the team from getting much prep time in advance of the season, however.

New faces in the league include former England captain Chris Robshaw (San Diego) and Australian stars Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau (L.A. Giltinis).

While Killebrew is happy to see such international names come on board, he stresses the league’s objective is to develop pro rugby talent in North America.

He sees the likes of Robshaw, Ashley-Cooper and Giteau serving as role models for young North American teammates, “really teaching them what it means to be a professional at the highest level.”

But he also knows they bring fans with them

Robshaw has 234,200 followers on Twitter and 155,000 on Instagram.

“We need to use that as a league and harness their power, harness their social media power to really help tell our story,” he said. “And who better to do.”

Killebrew expects more than half of his teams to be playing before some fans when the season kicks off.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read