Free Jacks Throttle SaberCats in 2023 Regular Season Finale
Powered by a Le Roux Malan hat trick, the New England Free Jacks closed out the regular season in style Sunday, rolling to a 47-24 victory over the Houston SaberCats in front of a sellout crowd of 4,758 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The win was the 10th straight for the 14-2 Free Jacks, who now enter the Major League Rugby playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ll host the winner of New York and Old Glory DC in the East Final on Saturday, July 1.
Malan scored three of New England’s seven tries Sunday, including a sensational individual effort that opened the scoring in the 13th minute. The inside center blocked a Houston kick, snatched the ball out of the air and sprinted untouched for a 70-meter try. Malan added a second breakaway score four minutes later off an offload from outside center Ben LeSage, then a third early in the second half.
No. 8 Wian Conradie notched two tries on goal-line pick-and-go’s, and wing Paula Balekana and scrumhalf John Poland each scored once for the Free Jacks, who led by as many as 30 points before a late SaberCats rally. LeSage set up Balekana’s and Poland’s scores with line breaks and well-timed offloads.
Fullback Reece MacDonald was a perfect 7-for-7 on conversion kicks.
The Free Jacks won by double digits for the sixth consecutive week despite losing two key starters to early injuries. Beaudein Waaka, starting in the No. 10 shirt for the first time this season, exited after absorbing a heavy hit from Houston flanker Danny Barrett less than two minutes into the match. Wing Mitch Wilson also left the game within the first 15 minutes. They were replaced by Spencer Jones and Joe Johnston, with Johnston, typically a back-row forward, playing out of position in Wilson’s spot.
New England held a narrow 19-10 lead at half time but pulled away by scoring tries in the 47th (Malan), 53rd (Conradie) and 59th (Poland) minutes. Conradie’s second try with just over five minutes remaining closed out the scoring.
Barrett, Kainoa Lloyd and Nick Boyer scored tries for Houston. Barrett’s came with Conradie in the sin bin for a yellow card.
Player of the match
Malan propelled the Free Jacks’ relentless attack with his trifecta of tries.
Play of the match
All three of Malan’s scores were highlight-reel-caliber, but his first was the prettiest of the bunch.
Moment of the match