By Joe Harvey
If you like announcements that get the pulse racing, last Thursday certainly had you covered.
Just after 09:00, New England Free Jacks social media admin clicked ‘send’ on the posts announcing that Namibia international, Wian Conradie, would be returning to the team.
In 2021, the back-row forward was a cornerstone of all that was good about the Free Jacks. Turning our blue-collar performance after blue-collar performance, the 27-year-old’s efforts earned him a place in the All-MLR First Team at season’s end.
Not only that, Conradie was signed by English Premiership club, Gloucester Rugby, where he has spent much of the past year before deciding to skip back over the North Atlantic Ocean.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Conradie told freejacks.com. “It is a really great rugby club, and it was awesome to go to the games and see how many players were supporting the side.
“It is a real historic club, and they are just striving to be the best week in, week out, making sure that everyone buys into the same goal and work towards that and make sure they are in the best in the league.
“Their work ethic is really something to admire, it was a good environment for me to be in, because I am the same, because I enjoy working hard and you enjoy getting on top of things.”
His arrival to the City of Presidents and to ‘The Forge’ couldn’t come at a better time. As things stand, Scott Mathie’s team sit at the top of the East Conference and are preparing to host two-time Major League Rugby champions, the Seattle Seawolves.
“They have been going really well this season, and I think everyone has been playing really well,” he said.
“There is a good sense of brotherhood amongst the players, and you can see that on the field.
“Everyone is just enjoying themselves and playing some good rugby together and I think that reflects in the results. They have been doing really, really well.”
During his time in England, plenty has changed in the Free Jacks camp. There is an entirely new coaching staff, with Scott Mathie taking over from Ryan Martin and bringing Mike Rogers in as an assistant coach from New Zealand.
Not only that, the team has a new base in the Granite Trust Building in the center of Quincy, with Veterans Memorial Stadium just a short drive away from the home base.
“It has been really pleasing to see the amount of progress they have made in such a short period of time,” Conradie said.
“I know they are working really hard, in terms of looking out for the players and making sure they are well looked after and cared for.
“You can see that contributes to the team environment and making sure that everyone buys in and gets the job done.”
When Conradie’s recapture from the English West Country was announced, he had already been on the move for several hours.
Leaving his home of the past nine months early in the morning, Conradie along with his wife, Amouré, made their way to Bristol Airport to start their journey.
A flight to Dublin, Ireland, soon followed before the final leg of their journey – a seven-hour flight to Boston.
In the days that followed, Conradie reacclimatized to Boston and Quincy, rekindling friendships and exploring his new home.
“When we first came here in March last year, we fell in love with the place,” he said. “Boston is a great city, and Quincy is great too. We love it.
“We love the city life, it is good for us to be here and the Free Jacks environment and the people, they are just so friendly and look out for one another. It is an awesome place to be involved in.”
Making it to Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the 27-year-old was reintroduced to the New England fans that made their way to watch the Free Jacks take on NOLA.
It was a day to remember, and not only for the Free Jacks’ efforts on the field. Welcoming numerous collegiate sides to the venue, the Northeast Regional Qualifiers for the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship took place, offering a chance to see the next generation of US rugby talent in action.
After that tournament had concluded, the Après Ski event and MLR game took place and offered all of the excitement that a sevens game has across 14 minutes.
Racing into a 24-5 lead at half-time, a NOLA resurgence weeing the clash finish 33-29 in favor of the home team.
For their part in the team’s performance, Cam Davidowicz, Dougie Fife and Wayne van der Bank made the MLR First XV of the Week, the team maintaining their position in the East Conference.
Watching on from the bleachers, regularly taking pictures with fans, was Conradie, who very much enjoyed the afternoon.
“To be honest, the atmosphere was really amazing,” he said. “I was sitting there on the side lines and wishing I could be playing, because everyone was cheering them on, and it was like people were walking in the entire time.
“We just saw fans coming in the entire time and packing out the stadium. I enjoyed it, my wife enjoyed it, it was good to be back, and it was a good game.
“It has been unbelievable to see that amount of fans coming to games and cheering the boys on, and I am sure it will be the dame this weekend, with everyone coming out and supporting us.
“We are looking forward to that, whether I am involved or not. It is a great place to play and be cheered on.”
In contention to make his second debut for the team on Saturday afternoon, Conradie will no doubt be looking to recapture some of the form of 12 months prior.
Making an eye-watering 193 tackles, carrying the ball 157 times, making 881 meters with the ball in hand and scoring four tries, it wasn’t a bad return from one of Tom Kindley’s late recruitments heading into last season.
Due to have been pulling on a Dallas Jackals jersey, after the team opted to defer their entry to the league by 12 months as a result of the uncertainty Covid-19 posed, the Texans’ loss was very much New England’s gain.
Despite only being 27, Conradie came to MLR with a wealth of experience. Playing at the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups, the back-row played regularly for the University of Johannesburg, before spending time playing in his native Namibia before playing for English Championship team, Doncaster Knights.
Last season when New England hosted Seattle in their only encounter in 2021, it was the Free Jacks who ended the game with a win, the final score reading 25-21.
Starting in that game, the outlook for both teams is much different now, with each very much having put their hat in the ring for a place in the postseason.
Coming in off their bye week, the Seawolves will offer stern opposition, although Conradie is confident that the good work his teammates have done prior will see them home.
“I think they look really good, but obviously I think at the same time, the Free Jacks have been doing really well this season,” Conradie said.
“At the moment, we are just focused on ourselves and making sure that we stick to the process and making sure that everyone does their job on the field and making sure that they know what to do. “We will carry that momentum into the game and the result will take care of itself”