TORONTO — The Toronto Arrows brought pro rugby downtown on Sunday, delivering a nail-biter in a 23-19 victory over the San Diego Legion.
Steven Ng's 79th-minute try capped the comeback at Lamport Stadium, ending the Legion's six-game unbeaten streak in Major League Rugby play.
"My first try of the season. No other way to do it than a game-winner," Ng, a 21-year-old hooker from Ottawa, said with a wide smile.
The two teams exchanged the lead late in the game.
Trailing 12-9, Toronto went up a man in the 65th minute when San Diego scrum half Nate Augspurger was sin-binned for a high tackle. The Arrows took advantage immediately with Uruguayan international Leandro Leivas crossing the line in the 67th minute.
Sam Malcolm coolly slotted the conversion for a 16-12 lead.
San Diego (9-3-1) answered quickly, driving down the field and scoring via Joe Pietersen off a scrum in front of the post. His conversion gave the Legion a 19-16 lead.
The Arrows raced back, winning the ball off a San Diego lineout deep in the Legion end. Then San Diego replacement prop Aaron Mitchell was called in the 77th minute, this time for a professional foul in deliberately slowing down the play
Toronto (7-5-0) opted for the scrum in front of the posts and Ng bulled his way over with Malcolm's conversion making it 23-19, good for the Arrows' third-straight win.
JP du Plessis and Mike Te'o also scored tries for San Diego, which led 12-6 at the half after a pair of opportunistic tries. Pietersen kicked two conversions.
Malcolm added three penalties for Toronto.
"It was a tough battle, a see-saw battle today," said Malcolm, a pocket-sized fly half from New Zealand. "Credit to the boys. We dug in for the last 10, 15 minutes and we were just lucky enough to get a win in front of our home fans."
It was the first game on the artificial turf at Lamport Stadium for the expansion Arrows, who played their first three home contests at York Alumni Stadium in the north of the city. The crowd was announced at 2,229 on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, the Toronto Wolfpack defeated the Bradford Bulls 36-16 at Lamport before an announced crowd of 8,363 in Betfred Championship rugby league play.
The Wolfpack, in their third year, have been around longer and are more liberal in giving away tickets.
The Arrows dominated early on Sunday but the San Diego defence held firm and the Legion led at the half on the back of two tries against the run of play.
Pietersen carved his way through the Toronto defence before finding du Plessis near the goal-line in the 18th minute. A poor Arrows pass and favourable bounce set the speedy Te'o on his way for a 70-metre try late in the half.
Both teams lost players to injury in the half with Toronto fullback Theo Sauder and San Diego's Audsley forced to leave.
Du Plessis was penalized in the 25th minute for a deliberate knock-on.
Toronto's matchday 23 featured 12 internationals, 11 of whom are Canadian.
Assistant coaches Aaron Carpenter, Cory Hector and Peter Smith ran the Arrows with director of rugby Chris Silverthorn under the weather.
The San Diego starting 15 included U.S. internationals Augspurger, Te'o, Dylan Audsley and Ryan Matyas, Super Rugby veterans du Plessis, Pietersen, Paddy Ryan and Jordan Manihera, Fiji Olympic sevens gold medallist Jasa Veremalua and former University of Washington linebacker Psalm Wooching.
Toronto beat the Legion 27-20 when the teams met in San Diego on March 19, rallying from a 17-point deficit with 24 unanswered points. San Diego had not lost since, going 5-0-1.
The loss, coupled with NOLA Gold's win over Austin, dropped San Diego into second place behind New Orleans. Toronto remains sixth, in the hunt for one of four playoff berths.
Sunday marked the start of a busy schedule for the Arrows, who host Austin on Thursday at York Alumni in a weather-rescheduled game before entertaining Utah on Sunday at Lamport.
Rob Brouwer, Andrew Quattrin, Morgan Mitchell, Mike Sheppard, Paul Ciulini, John Moonlight, Peter Milazzo, Marcello Wainwright, Jamie Mackenzie, Sam Malcolm, Dan Moor, Pat Parfrey, Spencer Jones, Gaston Mieres, Theo Sauder.
Steven Ng, Pat Lynott, Cole Keith, Tom Van Horne, Kolby Francis, Andrew Ferguson, Leandro Leivas, Avery Oitomen.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press