The Beat Goes On, Free Jacks topple Rugby ATL for 8 in a Row
The New England Free Jacks stretched their win streak to eight games Friday night with a 35-14 road victory over Rugby ATL at Silverbacks Park.
New England, which already clinched first place in the Eastern Conference and a spot in the East Final last week, improved to 12-2 on the season with the win. The Free Jacks also maintained their perfect record against conference opponents (10-0). Atlanta, which is fighting for one of the East’s two final playoff spots, fell to 5-8-1.
Fullback Reece MacDonald was the player of the match for New England, scoring one try, assisting on another and preventing two by Rugby ATL with aggressive defense.
Both of those stops came in the opening minutes. McDonald won a ruck penalty near his own try line in the 6th minute, then sprinted across the field a minute later to swat the ball out of the hands of would-be try-scorer Rewita Biddle.
Thanks in large part to those two defensive plays, the Free Jacks never trailed in the match and led for the final 51 minutes.
Offensively, MacDonald helped create a 29th-minute try for Paula Balekana when he juked an ATL defender during a Free Jacks counterattack to initiate a 40-yard line break. He offloaded to inside center Le Roux Malan, who fed Balekana for the winger’s 11th try of the season — tied for second-most in MLR.
“That try was just — I guess I was lucky at the end of it,” MacDonald said. “A couple of good offloads, Holdy with his little grubber. I was fortunate for it to bounce up for me. Pretty stoked to get that one.”
Starting scrumhalf Kieran McClea scored two of the Free Jacks’ five tries, the first off a try-line pick-and-go in the 17th minute and the second off a 50th-minute counterattack initiated by flyhalf Jayson Potroz. McClea also scored in last Sunday’s blowout victory over Toronto.
Replacement flanker Cam Davidowicz closed out the scoring with an insurance try in the 79th minute. Potroz helped set up that one, too, chipping a high ball to Balekana that the winger caught and flipped to the trailing Davidowicz. Atlanta was playing with 14 men at the time following a yellow card on outside center William Leonard.
Inside center Martini Talapusi and second row Justin Basson were the try-scorers for Rugby ATL. Basson’s cut the home team’s deficit to 21-14 in the 54th minute, but New England responded with late tries from MacDonald and Davidowicz to pull away.
It was the Free Jacks’ sixth 30-point effort in the last eight matches. They’ve won seven of their last eight by double digits and four of those by 20-plus, including Friday’s 21-point margin. New England has outscored opponents by an MLR-best 252 points this season and has an average margin of victory of 28.5 points per game during its current eight-game win streak.
The Free Jacks will visit the Seattle Seawolves next Sunday night (10:30 p.m. ET) in the penultimate week of the regular season before closing with a home match against the Houston Sabercats on Saturday, June 18 (1:30 p.m. ET).
MacDonald, who played the full 80 and was dazzling throughout.
The grubber-and-chase from Yungert to MacDonald leads the highlight reel and gave the Free Jacks a bit of necessary breathing room after Rugby ATL trimmed their lead to seven midway through the second half.
It happened just minutes in, but MacDonald’s chasedown of Biddle — which foiled what would have been a sensational try for Atlanta’s No. 15 — set the tone, showing New England wouldn’t be taking this match lightly despite already booking their spot in the East Final.