The New England Free Jacks kicked off their Inaugural Season in Major League Rugby with a decisive bonus point victory against Eastern Division Rivals Rugby United New York. The Free Jacks came away from their first match in franchise history with a 34-14 win in the Las Vegas desert at Sam Boyd Stadium. The match is the culmination of over a year of preparation for the team out of New England, and showcased the team’s cohesiveness, comradery, and intent as they took on last year’s 4th place finishers.
The Nevada desert invited players and fans to a windy Sam Boyd Stadium on February 8th as the two teams kicked off MLR 2020. Early in the game the Free Jacks pinned RUNY inside their own 22m zone as the men in orange and blue battled against the incoming breeze that limited an effective kicking game. Dominant pressure at set piece kept momentum with the Free Jacks through the first few phases of play. With RUNY on the back foot, some quick thinking by Tadhg Leader and smooth hands through Liam Steel, the ball found Mitch Wilson on the edge in space who touched down for the first try in franchise history. A tough kick from the corner for Leader kept the score 5-0.
Further scrum dominance resulted repeated penalties against the Roosters. Tadhg Leader must know something we don’t, as following a free kick the Gallawegian playmaker launched the ball high in the air. The ball bounced over the head of RUNY fullback, Ben Foden, and rebounded off the crossbar. Showcasing their effort and pressure, Brad Hemopo, Free Jacks number 8 was there to receive the ball in open arms and scored the Free Jacks 2nd try of the day. The spectacular run of play is one you don’t often see and will be remembered in Free Jacks history. With the conversion made and a penalty slotted not long after, the score was 15-0 in as many minutes.
New York rallied and found their momentum in the 2nd quarter of the match, inching down the field with tactical kicks to the corner. Repeated infringements trying to force back the New York maul resulted in Free Jacks captain Josh Larsen receiving a yellow card and spending 10 minutes in the bin. RUNY capitalized on the man advantage and earned their first try of the day with a driving maul and a pick and go.
Even with a man down, the Free Jacks attacking strength was too much for the New York players to manage. Off the back of a 5-meter attacking scrum, a backline move sent the ball through the hands of Sam Beard to Beaudein Waaka, who spun through and catapulted into his first try of the day. 22-7 at the break.
The first minutes of the 2nd half kept the forward busy with repeated scrums and lineouts with both teams fighting for dominant possession. Ben Foden received a yellow card in the 52nd minute for an intentional knock on that would have prevented a clear Free Jacks try in the wide channel. With the RUNY backline a man short, the Free Jacks spread the ball wide of an attacking set piece and some razzle dazzle foot work led to Waaka dotting down the ball for the first try in the 2nd half. 27-7
Further attacking flair from Waaka with a chip and chase and wonderful offloading from Sam Beard, finished an electric series of play with Liam Steel scoring under the posts.
RUNY fought hard until the end of the match and earned a final try through the work of Kyle Sumsion.
The Free Jacks and Rugby United New York will remain in Las Vegas for next Saturday’s Major League Rugby Weekend. The Free Jacks take on the Utah Warriors and the Roosters match against the Austin Gilgronis.