Free Jacks prepare for a big scrum

New England Free Jacks at Utah Warriors

Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah


Final score: Utah 26, Free Jacks 24

Moment of the match

New England led for much of the second half following a 48th-minute try by Isaac Olson, but a string of two Free Jacks penalties in quick succession set up Utah flyhalf Joel Hodgson with a makeable kick for points. He slotted it, giving the Warriors a 26-24 lead with less than four minutes remaining. 

Utah withstood a final Free Jacks push to halt New England’s three-match win streak and leave Zions Bank Stadium with a dramatic victory. Hodgson went just 1-for-3 on conversion attempts but slotted all three of his penalties, including another in the 60th minute.


Players of the match

Free Jacks flyhalf Jayson Potroz also boosted his team with his boot, going 3-for-3 on conversions (including a tricky attempt from the left sideline) and making his lone penalty. The nine points moved Potroz into a tie for second in Major League Rugby in points scored this season (49), three shy of league leader Tito Bonilla of Old Glory DC.

You won’t see inside center Wayne Van Der Bank’s name on the score sheet, but he set up two of the Free Jacks’ tries with well-weighted open-field kicks. 

And No. 8 Wian Conradie continued to be a force in New England’s forward pack, scoring his second try in as many matches off an overpowering 5-meter scrum. Conradie entered Friday night as the MLR leader in total carries. 


Play of the match

Utah led 20-17 after a frenetic first 40 minutes and nearly broke the game open early in the second half. 

Hooker Joey Backe broke free off a turnover and galloped nearly 50 meters toward the Free Jacks try line. But fullback Reece MacDonald and Potroz converged to tackle him with inches to spare, and a speedy poach by outside center Ben Lesage forced a penalty for not releasing. 

New England immediately capitalized off the near miss. Van Der Bank burst through the Utah line off the ensuing lineout and gently dribbled a kick to the chasing Isaac Olson, who gathered it and dove over the line for a highlight-reel try.

It was the first try in a Free Jacks uniform for the 22-year-old Canadian, and it came just over 10 minutes into his MLR debut. Olson came on late in the first half to replace an injured Mitch Wilson.


What it means 

The loss dropped the Free Jacks to 4-2 on the season. They secured a close-loss bonus point, however, and will maintain their spot atop the Eastern Conference standings entering Round 8. Utah improved to 4-2 with the win.


Up next

The Free Jacks will return home to Veteran’s Memorial Stadium next Saturday when they host the expansion Chicago Hounds. Kickoff for that match is set for 2 p.m. ET.

John Poland looks to kick the ball downfield

Full Match Report

The New England Free Jacks fell to the Utah Warriors in a thriller Friday night, losing 26-24 under the lights at Zions Bank Stadium. 

Utah flyhalf Joel Hodgson provided the deciding points with a go-ahead penalty goal in the 76th minute, with the Warriors stifling one final New England push to seal the victory for the hosts. The defeat snapped the Free Jacks’ three-game win streak, but a close-loss bonus point ensured they’ll maintain their grip on first place in the Eastern Conference entering Round 8.

Thirty-seven of the match’s 50 points were scored in the first half, with the sides combining for five tries during one 18-minute flurry. Utah lock Onehunga Havili scored the first off a pick-and-goal near the New England try line, only for the Free Jacks to respond five minutes later with an equalizing try from No. 8 Wian Conradie. 

Outside center Ben Lesage initiated the sequence by forcing a turnover with a powerful tackle near midfield. Inside center Wayne Van Der Bank recovered the ball and sent a well-weighted kick deep into Utah territory, forcing the Warriors to kick the ball out the ball of their own try zone as they scrambled to recover. On the ensuing 5-meter scrum, the Free Jacks drove Utah’s forward pack over the try line, allowing Conradie to touch the ball down for five points. Jayson Potroz’s ensuing conversion tied the game at 10-10. 

The Warriors immediately struck back with a long try down the left touchline by wing Joe Mano, but a perfectly placed Potroz kickoff on the ensuing restart set New England up with a lineout deep in Utah territory. The Free Jacks kept possession and, after several phases near the Warriors try line, got the ball to wing Paula Balekana, who scored a try in the left corner. Potroz’s tricky conversion gave New England its first lead of the night, 17-15. 

Utah pulled back ahead before the break with a try by its other wing, Mika Kruse. The Free Jacks were playing with 14 men at the time after lock Conor Keys was shown a yellow card.

The sensational 48th-minute try by replacement winger Isaac Olson gave New England a 24-20 advantage that held for much of the second half, but a 60th-minute penalty by Hodgson trimmed that lead to one point, and another with less than five minutes to play proved to be the difference. Hodgson’s game-winner came after the Free Jacks were penalized for contacting a Utah player in the air during a kick contest, then whistled for another infraction during the ensuing lineout, setting up a makeable shot at the posts for the Utah No. 10. 

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