The second ever League One rugby match in Toronto was dubbed Clash of the Undefeated as it pitted the visiting 7-0 Barrow Raiders versus the 7-0 hometown Wolfpack. It will seem utterly surprising to all (because it still does to me) when I say that the Raiders did provide the stiffest challenge so far this season, despite losing to the Wolfpack 70-2.
Yes, that scoreline is correct. It unfortunately does not due the visitors any justice as they not only held a 2-0 lead to start the game, but they also were close to scoring several tries early on. The Wolfpack defence however was mighty. They marked their territory appropriately and no one would get through on this day.
The contest was physical as expected and the lads on both sides were amped due to the vociferous 7,144 fans in the seats. Less than three minutes into the game, official John McMullan had to take both captains aside and tell them to get their teams to stop with any extra-curricular pushing and shoving. This may have been one of the reasons as to why there were no yellow cards or ejections compared to the five that were carded during their first home game. The other reason may just be coach Paul Rowley.
“We had more than one or two strong words about it as a group and we all thought we let ourselves down,”Rowley said when comparing the two games. “I can assure you it was a one off and what you saw today was the real Toronto Wolfpack.”
One player who missed the first home game due to a visa issue has instantly become a fan favourite. Fuifui Moimoi (pronounced Foo-ee foo-ee Moy moy) had to be dragged by his trainer away from the fans after the game. It appears he was enjoying the handshakes, high fives and selfies as much as the fans were. Maybe fans take to him because of his name or his hair or his size but coach Rowley probably described it best.
“Being the sadistic nature that everybody is these days, that’s the sort of stuff that everybody likes to see and Fui provides that,” coach Rowley said.”He is a loveable character off the field and a gentleman. A really popular player amongst his peers and all the staff. Fui loves to smash and that’s why everybody loves Fui.”
It is that mutual admiration between player and fan that is going to see this team be successful. It isn’t just with Fui either but with every player. One of the stars of the match Quentin Laulu-TogagaE (pronounced QLT – trust me) scored three tries and yet gives credit to the crowds here in Toronto.
“I’ve come from a club where we get about 1000 people so it’s about an extra 5-6000 here so it amps up the boys…it has been pretty special,” Laulu-TogagaE said. “I missed the first game through injury, so I was a bit gutted specially with the atmosphere, so I was looking to have a big one [game] today.
Then you have Ryan Brierley and all of his boyish charm. At first glance you get the sense that he is someone that can cause plenty of mischief, but it would all be harmless and just in good fun. There also appears to be a sweet soul. It was by chance that we noticed him giving away his shoes and earlier after scoring a try, we weren’t really sure what his “V” gesture meant either. It wasn’t until later that night that we understood the full weight of what those gestures represented.
Now, we have seen athletes give away their shoes before which is a warm, sincere gesture regardless of how many times it is done. But Brierley was the first one we recall to remove his laces (violet in colour) before giving the shoes away. Odd to say the least. Thankfully, some of our Twitter followers helped us out (thank you Maggie & Patrick). They spoke of a recent tragedy regarding Violet-Grace, a little girl who was killed in a hit-and-run incident. Brierley has worn violet laces in honour of her memory and therefore kept the laces due to their special meaning. He also wanted everyone to know after he scored, that he was dedicating that to her, hence the “V” gesture.
It has been said before, but it certainly bears repeating. Yes, these lads are great rugby players, but they are far, far greater men. The city of Toronto is fortunate to be represented by these strong, rugged yet down to earth and kind gentleman.
Thank you to the UK and Kingstone Press League One for sharing your players and your sport with us… and in typical Canadian fashion, we welcome all supporters to Toronto to watch their team play and we promise we will all have a grand time together. But also in typical Canadian fashion, we find ourselves apologetic. We are really, really sorry for the beating OUR team will give yours.
That just can’t be helped.
Photos by Chris Papaionnou
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