FREE JACKS DEFEAT Old Glory 42-24, strengthening their position atop eastern conference
FINAL SCORE: Free Jacks 42, Old Glory 24
With the win, the Free Jacks improved to 9-2 on the season and extended their already-comfortable lead atop the East standings. Old Glory, who entered Sunday ranked second in the conference, fell to 5-6.
The Free Jacks opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Sustained possession in Old Glory territory forced multiple DC penalties, with one giving New England a lineout from the 5-meter line. The Free Jacks won that lineout and mauled the Old Glory pack into the try zone, allowing hooker Mills Sanerevi to touch the ball down for a try.
After an equalizing try by Old Glory No. 8 Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz in the 16th minute, New England struck back with three more before halftime. Fullback Reece MacDonald had a hand in two of those, offloading to John Poland for the scrumhalf’s try that made it 14-7 and later scoring one of his own in the 32nd minute.
No. 8 Wian Conradie scored the other first-half try in the 23rd minute off a Free Jacks scrum that was set up by a Poland line break. New England secured a four-try bonus point in the opening 40 minutes and led 28-7 at the break.
Conradie notched his second try of the match six minutes into the second half, stretching New England’s advantage to 35-7. Old Glory held up a would-be try by replacement flanker Joe Johnston moments earlier, but an offside penalty kept possession with the Free Jacks, and Conradie capitalized.
Free Jacks wing Mitch Wilson was shown a yellow card for an intentional knock-on in the 50th minute, and Old Glory began to rally during their 10-minute man advantage, getting tries from Nicholas Souchon and Collin Grosse to cut New England’s lead to 35-19.
Wing Paula Balekana, New England’s leading try-scorer this season, had a 60th-minute try taken off the board for an obstruction penalty after a video review. DC’s Owen Sheehy then proceeded to score his side’s third successive try to trim the Free Jacks’ cushion to 11 points with just under 10 minutes remaining.
New England finished with a flourish, however, with Wilson atoning for his yellow card by helping lock down the win for New England in the closing minutes. His heavy pressure off an Old Glory scrum forced a turnover that sprung replacement scrumhalf Holden Yungert for an insurance try.
The eventful second half also featured the season debut of 2022 Major League Rugby MVP Beaudein Waaka, who subbed in for MacDonald at fullback. Waaka re-signed with New England last month after a stint with the Kobelco Steelers in Japan Rugby League One. The talented 29-year-old depth will give the Free Jacks enviable depth at 10 and 15 as the postseason approaches.
The Free Jacks will return home to Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Quincy next week for the first of back-to-back home matches: vs. NOLA Gold on Sunday, May 21 and the Toronto Arrows on Saturday, May 27.
Player of the match
The ever-reliable Conradie scored two of the Free Jacks’ six tries after leading the team in carries and tackles made in each of the previous three matches.
Play of the match
Poland’s 19th-minute try was a beauty. After the Free Jacks spun the ball wide off a scrum deep in Old Glory territory, Balekana dropped his DC counterpart with a vicious fend and offloaded to MacDonald, who flipped a pass inside to a trailing Poland for the score.
Moment of the match
The sequence that led to MacDonald’s 32nd-minute try was a turning point in the match. It represented a potential 14-point swing, with the Free Jacks first stonewalling Old Glory off a 5-meter lineout and then racing 90-plus meters for a sensational try.