The Toronto Arrows: Canada’s Professional Rugby Team on the rise

Written by Teresa Greco

THE Toronto Arrows Rugby Football Club is Canada’s first and only professional rugby union team. Established in November 2018, the Toronto Arrows compete in Major League Rugby (MLR), a North American league that includes teams in New York, Boston, Washington, Houston, San Diego, Austin, Seattle, Salt Lake and Glendale. The team is owned by Bill Webb, Toronto Arrows President, with a minority shareholder group that includes professional sport expertise, such as Brian Burke, former General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Duncan McNaughton, assistant coach for the Canadian women’s rugby team and the Queen’s University men’s team. Bill Webb, Partner and Chief Investment Officer at Waypoint Investment Partners, devoted his time and passion into attracting investors, sponsors and even assisted in recruiting players to bring the team together. “We put in our application in August 2018 and received a formal acceptance to the league on Nov. 2,” Webb said. “It’s been a rocket ship!” It was an enormous endeavour to bring the Toronto Arrows together for the 2019 season, as professional rugby in Canada had been slow to take-off. Prior to the formation of the Toronto Arrows, there were no professional clubs in Canada, and Canadian players were forced to move to other countires if they wanted to continue playing once they became elite. Webb, a former player, is driven by his love of the sport. After a serious knee injury ended his playing career, Webb became a champion for rugby in Canada and has been involved with the national team as a Director for Rugby Canada. Webb played in England for the Wasps RFC before returning to Canada and reintegrating with the rugby community here.

Webb has been a key player in helping Canadian rugby overcome some big challenges. The Canadians have risen to 21st in the world rankings and players and coaches say MLR’s arrival has helped position them to make big gains in the future. Canada was the only country without a dedicated, high-performance training facility and players had to go abroad to play in a professional league. Lucas Rumbal, Toronto Arrows back row and member of the Rugby Canada team expressed this about having a Canadian team, “It’s a way to get better that doesn’t force you to pick up and move somewhere else. You can grow yourself, and with other Canadians … It makes you that much better.” In addition to being instrumental in getting the Toronto Arrows into MLR, Webb also helped fundraise for a new training facility, completing the Al Charron Rugby Canada National Training Centre in 2017 in Langford, B.C.

It’s a way to get better that doesn’t force you to pick up and move somewhere else. You can grow yourself, and with other Canadians … It makes you that much better.

The Toronto Arrows are a very competitive squad. 85% of the playing roster is Canadian. The foundation of the team is the senior men’s representative rugby team for the province of Ontario, The Ontario Blues. The Blues won 6 Canadian National Championships between 2011 and 2018. 16 of Toronto Arrows’ players have represented Canada in international rugby, including seven players that were recently named to the Canada 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.

The team is committed to being a development pathway for up-andcoming Canadian talent. In its first season, the team has already benefiting domestic talent, like Andrew Quattrin, Wilfrid Laurier University’s first and only men’s rugby player to be named Ontario University Athletics MVP. Quattrin, who signed with the Toronto Arrows in December 2018, said, “I get to play with the best in North America — we are all challenging each other for a spot on the roster to grow the program and the sport. There’s so much potential in players and it would be lost without Major League Rugby.”

In January 2020, the Toronto Arrows will be investing in an academy system that targets 12-15 emerging talents from Canadian universities and provides professional coaching and training environment. Toronto Arrows Vice President and General Manager Mark Winokur believes, “When creating this professional environment and entering Major League Rugby, one of our core objectives was to give our highperformance national and provincial-level players more chances to participate in top-tier matches, and to position our players for national team success.”
This was achieved by the Toronto Arrows when “nine of our players from our first season turned their play on the MLR pitch into Rugby World Cup roster spots, and we want to continue providing a pathway for players to consistently go from club to country,” adds Winokur.

The Toronto Arrows hope to provide opportunities for Canadia coaches as well to grow and develop as professional coaches. In 2019, 4 out of 5 members of the coaching staff were Canadian, including Assistant Coach Aaron Carpenter, who represented Canada at three Rugby World Cups and spent nine years as a player in England.

The Toronto Arrows partner with a broad network of community organizations to drive growth and participation in rugby across Canada including various grassroot rugby and sport organizations across Toronto and the GTA. Organizations include Rugby Ontario, which has introduced rugby to over 116,000 kids in the last two years alone, as well as, the Toronto Inner-City Rugby Foundation, which is a rugby centred development organization focused on underserved and priority Toronto communities. Another partner is Muddy York RFC, an all-inclusive rugby club providing access to the sport by serving Toronto’s LGBT+ community.

The Toronto Arrows played their first game on Jan. 26, 2019 away against the New Orleans Gold. In 2019, the team splits its home games between Toronto’s Alumni Field at York University and Lamport Stadium, with the first home game attracting 3,081 fans. As Canada’s only current professional team, the Toronto Arrows aspire to capture the “Raptors Effect” for rugby fans across Canada. MLR games are broadcasted on ESPN and CBS Sports in the United States and on GameTV in Canada. Overall, the Toronto Arrows finished their first season as third in the league with the regular season record of 11-5. They secured a spot in the MLR playoffs but eventually lost to the defending champions, the Seattle Seawolves.

Rugby is an incredibly inclusive sport, played by people of all abilities, sizes, ages, and gender, with 26% of global participants being women. In Canada, rugby has the fastest growing participation rates in sports (with 30% growth since 2010) due to an inclusive and highly engaged community. Rugby made its debut at the 2016 Olympic Games and the Rugby World Cup is the 3rd largest sporting event in the world. Despite only just completing its inaugural season in North America’s top flight, no club in Major League Rugby will have greater representation at the Rugby World Cup this September in Japan than the Toronto Arrows. 10 Toronto Arrows have been selected to Japanbound
rosters, with seven named to Canada’s tournament squad and an additional three chosen for Uruguay.

Canada will play two of the world’s most iconic sports teams, the New Zealand All Blacks and South Africa Springboks. Toronto Arrows President and General Partner Bill Webb remarks, “On behalf of the entire Toronto Arrows organization, I’d like to congratulate our 10 players on their selection to their nations’ World Cup rosters. The Rugby World Cup is widely considered to be the pinnacle of competition in our sport, and the amount of hard work, sacrifice and dedication required to reach the tournament is unquantifiable.

Following our successful first season in Major League Rugby, we’re very proud of our players’ accomplishments, and we’re looking forward to cheering on our Toronto Arrows while they represent Canada and Uruguay in Japan.” The Toronto Arrows have the objective to be the best professional rugby team in North America, both on and off the pitch. The team exemplifies the World Rugby core values of: Integrity, Respect, Solidarity, Passion and Discipline. With 338 million fans and 9.1million players worldwide, rugby is a truly global and mainstream sport on the rise.

In January 2020, the Toronto Arrows will be investing in an academy system that targets 12-15 emerging talents from Canadian universities and provides professional coaching and training environment. Toronto Arrows Vice President and General Manager Mark Winokur believes, “When creating this professional environment and entering Major League Rugby, one of our core objectives was to give our highperformance national and provincial-level players more chances to participate in top-tier matches, and to position our players for national team success.”
This was achieved by the Toronto Arrows when “nine of our players from our first season turned their play on the MLR pitch into Rugby World Cup roster spots, and we want to continue providing a pathway for players to consistently go from club to country,” adds Winokur.

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