As the Toronto Arrows enter a rare weekend off from the pitch, we had an opportunity to catch up with club Vice President and General Manager Mark Winokur to ask him a few questions during the team’s bye week.
Last Friday’s narrow, bonus-point defeat to Rugby United New York was the seventh of eight consecutive away matches for Canada’s first professional rugby union team, and while the team enjoys a short break before its final road game of the regular season, we asked Mark for his thoughts on the season so far, and what’s to come for the league’s new boys.
Q: It’s been a pretty gruelling road trip to start the Arrows’ first season in Major League Rugby, and the players and staff have logged quite a few air miles over the past couple of months. How does the team feel about its performance in its first seven games, especially considering they’ve all been away from home?
A: Coming into the season, we knew how it tough it would be to travel for eight straight weeks. There’s been many long hours spent at airports and aboard planes, and some days you feel like you’ve been living out of a suitcase, but for all the hours logged on the road, it’s been a great bonding experience for our guys. They’ve grown over a very short period of time, and have really come together as a team.
Combine the travel with the fact that no MLR team has been hit as hard as us with man-games lost due to international duty – it’s been close to 40 games – and we’ve really had to call on the strength of our depth. It’s been impressive to see the contributions from up and down our roster, and it shows the hard work and dedication our players are putting in behind the scenes.
We maintain the conventional wisdom: take half your road points and most of your home points, and you’ll be in good shape. We’re on 17 points from a possible 35, and we’re tracking OK. There have been some close games, and we know we left some points on the table, but they’ve been good learning experiences and we’ll be stronger as a result.
Q: What is the team looking for in the second half?
A: With our full squad back in Toronto and able to train together, and travelling no longer a factor, we should start to see more consistent performances and better starts each week.
Having all our guys back from international duty and training together has created an added element of cohesiveness that will translate well in match scenarios. The guys are loose, but competitive and eager to learn at training each week. We know it’s a long season, and everyone is itching to put in some strong results as push into the second half.
Q: As an expansion team in a young league, what have been the biggest challenges or surprises?
A: The officiating and match protocols have been really varied from place to place, which has been a big learning curve. And with all the travel crammed into the beginning of the season, after a while, you wake up not knowing where you are!
But despite the challenges, the guys have really battled, and two comeback wins on the road have been great demonstrations of our character. We’re a group that prides itself on putting in a full 80-minute shift.
Q: With the team’s eight-game homestand just around the corner, what excites you the most about the coming weeks?
A: We are so excited to finally play in front of our Canadian fans, and to reward them for being so supportive. Our fans have travelled well all season long – we’ve seen Arrows supporters in their blue and white at every match so far this campaign.
We have eight home games between April 7 and June 2, and season tickets and single-game tickets have been selling very well ahead of our homestand. Again, it speaks to the support we’ve received from our home fans, and we’re looking forward to giving them a fantastic gameday experience both on and off the field.
We can’t wait to show MLR just what Toronto, Ontario and Canadian rugby is all about. Bring it on!
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