Joe Johnston (ball in hand) makes a break down the field

FINAL SCORE: Free Jacks 8, New York 0

QUINCY, MA – The New England Free Jacks completed a Chowder Cup season sweep on Sunday, shutting out the rival New York Ironworkers 8-0 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

With the victory, the Free Jacks improved to 8-2 on the season, further strengthening their grip on first place in Major League Rugby’s Eastern Conference. New England also remains undefeated at home.

The Ironworkers, who are locked in a tight battle with Old Glory DC, NOLA Gold and Rugby ATL for second in the East, fell to 4-6.

Sunday was a chilly, wet day in Quincy, with temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s and intermittent rain falling throughout the match. The unpleasant weather resulted in frequent ball-handling difficulties for both sides. Despite this the Free Jacks crossed the tryline on 4 separate occasions but were only able to make one try count as New York’s defense held up would-be-scorers 3 different times.

The Free Jacks opened the scoring just six minutes in. Off a lineout from New York’s 5-meter line, flyhalf Jayson Potroz sent a cross-field kick from right to left to wing Paula Balekana, who stepped past Ironworkers fullback Nick Feakes for his team-leading eighth try of the season. Balekana entered the weekend one try shy of the MLR lead.

New England dominated possession and territory throughout the first half, but additional points proved elusive.

Jayson Potroz receives a pass from Kieran McClea

The Free Jacks committed just one penalty to New York’s 11 in the opening 40 minutes, resulting in four 5-meter lineouts for New England. But New York’s defense held when it counted, holding up two would-be Free Jacks tries between the 24th and 30th minutes. Potroz also misfired on his first penalty late in the half before slotting his second attempt to send the home team into the break with an 8-0 lead.

The penalty disparity stabilized during an evenly matched, but ultimately scoreless second half. The Free Jacks were forced to play nearly all of the final 10 minutes with 14 men following a yellow card on fullback Reece MacDonald, but New York could not capitalize. 

One of the Ironworkers’ finest second-half scoring chances was snuffed out by Free Jacks outside center Ben Lesage. New York tried to exploit its man advantage in the back line with an attacking kick, but after winger Andrew Coe kept play alive with a nifty offload, Lesage’s aggressive pursuit allowed him to corral Feakes and drag him into touch to force a turnover in the 71st minute.

The Free Jacks had two late opportunities to extend their lead in the closing minutes — a long-range penalty attempt that sailed wide and a try-line knock-on, both while rain poured down — but Potroz sealed the win with a perfectly placed clearing kick. Feakes fielded the kick but did so inches from the touch line, and New England’s chasers forced him out, resulting in a lineout for New England. 

The Free Jacks won that, and Potroz booted the ball into touch as time expired to end a gritty, hard-fought match. 

The Free Jacks are off next week before visiting Old Glory on Sunday, May 14. They’ll be back home the following weekend to host NOLA.

Sanerivi, Sole, O’Gorman, Keys, Jacobson, (Left to Right) preparing for a scrum.

Player of the match

Though Potroz went just 1-for-3 on penalty kicks and 0-for-1 on conversions in the tricky conditions, he frequently put New York under pressure with his kicks in open play and was the catalyst for the game’s lone try. 

The New Zealand-native No. 10 was MLR’s second-leading scorer entering Round 11, trailing only Houston’s Davy Coetzer. 

Play of the match

When a match features just one try, it’s not a hard choice, especially when that score was as well-executed as Potroz’s kick and Balekana’s finish.

Moment of the match

In a sloppy second half, Lesage’s hustle play to drag out Feakes with MacDonald in the sin bin exemplified the attitude needed to win a tightly contested match like this one.

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