Free Jacks Prevail on the Road, Take Down Seattle in a Sunday Night Showdown

The New England Free Jacks kept their winning streak alive Sunday night by dispatching one of the top teams in Major League Rugby, holding on for a 34-26 road victory over the Seattle Seawolves.

It was the ninth consecutive win for the Free Jacks, who have not lost since March 31.

New England and Seattle entered the match with identical 12-2 records, with the Free Jacks having already clinched first place in the Eastern Conference and the Seawolves locking up second in the West behind 14-1 San Diego.

The Free Jacks led 17-7 at half time off tries by hooker Andrew Quattrin and wing Paula Balekana.
Quattrin opened the scoring in the 19th minute, diving over the try line off a stable New England maul. The Ontario native’s try came immediately after prop Joel H‌intz had one disallowed following a video review.

A 26th-minute try from Seawolves inside center Daniel Kriel pulled Seattle even, but New England reclaimed the lead eight minutes later and never relinquished it. After the Free Jacks won a penalty off a John Poland box kick, slick passing from flyhalf Jayson Potroz and fullback Beaudein Waaka set up Balekana for a try in the corner. It was the 13th try of the season for the speedy Fijian, second-most in MLR.

Potroz added a penalty kick on the final play of the half to stretch New England’s advantage to 10 points.

The opening 15 minutes of the second half saw New England get a try from flanker Sam Fischli and another successful Potroz penalty to take a commanding 27-7 lead.

But Seattle surged late. Tries from Tevita Lopeti and Peter Malcolm in quick succession trimmed the home team’s deficit from 20 points to just six, 27-21. Replacement flanker Ethan Fryer responded with a try of his own, however, and his 74th-minute score gave New England the necessary cushion, allowing it to withstand a second score from Malcolm in the closing minutes and salt away its latest victory.

It was a memorable evening for Fischli and Fryer, who both scored their first MLR tries. Fryer’s came in a homecoming of sorts; the 22-year-old grew up just 20 minutes outside Seattle in Issaquah, Wash.

The Free Jacks will close out the regular season next Sunday against the Houston Sabercats at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium (1:30 p.m. ET). After that, they’ll enjoy a well-deserved bye week before hosting the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday, July 1 (6 p.m.).

Player of the match

Potroz. In addition to the 14 points he provided with his boot (2-for-2 on penalties, 4-for-4 on conversions), the veteran flyhalf also gracefully quarterbacked the Free Jacks’ attack despite being leveled by Seattle defenders on several occasions.
“That was a brutal game,” Potroz said in a post-match interview with the MLR broadcast team. “It was a great atmosphere, a great crowd here and they got behind their team, and I’m just thankful we managed to gut it out at the end and put the game away.”
Play of the match
Balekana’s 34th-minute try, which came off a well-worked lineout play, was the prettiest of the match for the Free Jacks
Moment of the match
The Seattle-area native (Fryer) scoring his first career try to help put away his hometown team was a fitting end to an exciting contest.
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