Canadian forward Travis Larsen looks to welcome Toronto Arrows to Texas
Austin Elite Rugby forward Travis Larsen will be seeing plenty of familiar faces Friday when he looks across the field at the visiting Toronto Arrows in Major League Rugby play.
Born in Nanaimo, B.C., and raised in New Zealand, Larsen is a Canada ‘A’ international who has spent time with many of the Arrows at Rugby Canada’s training centre in Langford, B.C.
“I’d say I know probably at least three quarters of the team,” Larsen said in an interview. “So I’m pretty excited about playing against them to be honest … It’s definitely a match I’ve had circled on my calendar since I looked at the schedule.
“I know a lot of those Ontario boys well and they’re a great bunch of guys. But as soon as you get on that field, it’s a different thing.”
The 27-year-old Larsen, who plays No. 8 for Austin, will face the Arrows without younger brother Josh, however. Josh Larsen, a lock forward three years younger than Travis, is with the Canadian team that plays Brazil in Sao Paulo in Americas Rugby Championship action Saturday.
Toronto, despite a spirited 24-point second-half comeback, lost its inaugural match 36-31 in suburban New Orleans to NOLA Gold on Jan. 26. It had a bye last weekend.
Austin is winless so far, falling 21-20 to Houston and 17-9 to Utah in its first two matches of the season.
“It’s been a pretty frustrating start for us,” said Travis Larsen, listed at 6-3 and 235 pounds. “The first two games we’ve been very close but we haven’t been able to put the other team away. We’ve been working pretty hard this week to try and rectify a few things hopefully for this weekend.”
Toronto has nine players on international duty at the Americas Rugby Championship — seven with Canada and two with Uruguay.
Austin is down five players with Josh Larsen and Doug Fraser with Canada and three others with Uruguay. The 17th-ranked Uruguayans beat No. 20 Canada 20-17 last Saturday with a try at the final whistle in Montevideo.
The Arrows have made seven changes to the starting lineup that lost to New Orleans. Kolby Francis, Morgan Mitchell, Avery Oitomen, John Sheridan, Josh Van Horne, Marcello Wainwright, and Shawn Windsor all come into the starting 15.
“We knew that we were going to lose guys to their national teams throughout the Americas Rugby Championship and while they leave big shoes to fill, we feel really good about our squad depth,” Chris Silverthorn, Toronto’s director of rugby, said in a statement.
Still the Arrows squad features five full Canadian internationals in Rob Brouwer (9 caps), Paul Ciulini (8), Tom Dolezel (16), Andrew Ferguson (11) and captain Dan Moor (14 caps).
Thirteen of the starting 15 are Canadian with the other two from New Zealand — fly half Sam Malcolm and prop Mitchell.
The Larsen brothers signed with Austin last October. Travis had a friend on the Austin team whom he had played with in New Zealand. That connection led to a chat with the coach and a job offer.
Travis asked whether Josh could be part of the deal and the brothers soon signed. The season-opening loss to Houston marked the first time the brothers had ever played on the same team.
The Larsens are enjoying their time in Texas. The team plays in Round Rock, which is about 30 minutes outside Austin, and most of the players make their homes there. The brothers share an apartment with French-Moroccan fullback Soheyl Jaoudat.
While rugby is not a core sport in the Lone Star state, Larsen says people are interested in the new team. The squad features players from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Ireland, South Africa and Uruguay.
By Neil Davidson / The Canadian Press
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