The New England Free Jacks hosted arch-rivals Rugby New York in the Major League Rugby Eastern Conference Final at Quincy, Massachusetts on June 19. New York emerged with a 24-16 win to advance to the MLR Shield Championship on June 25 in New Jersey.
The match was broadcast on Fox Sports 1 and streamed internationally on The Rugby Network where there will be a 24-hour delayed replay in the U.S.
The teams met thrice during the regular season, each winning on the road. The Free Jacks entered their first playoff, coming off a 21-14 loss to Rugby New York, while New York had a three-match winning streak, including a playoff road win, 26-19, in Atlanta on June 11.
As the Eastern Conference Champions, Rugby New York will host the MLR Shield Championship against the Western Conference Final winner Seattle Seawolves, who won 46-27 over the Houston SaberCats last night.
Seattle is peaking at the right time and will enter the match with a four-match winning streak, since they lost 30-22 against Rugby New York on May 15 in Hoboken. Rugby New York also has a four-match winning streak and it will make for an exciting final.
For New England, it will be a bitter-sweet season. The team had the best record in Major League Rugby but was playing in their first playoff game. The match was a close one in a battle between titans, but Rugby New York can finally play for a championship.
The Free Jacks struck first after a New York lineout turnover with a Beaudein Waaka try and conversion in the 4th minute, 7-0.
New York had their own chance after a penalty by Jesse Parete, but Jason Emery’s penalty goal was wide left. Both teams then had attacking chances, however, a New York penalty had Waaka slotting a kick, 10-0.
An Andy Ellis high ball was taken by Heighton and offloaded to Andrew Coe, who broke within 8 meters of in-goal. Ben Bonasso finished taking Kara Pryor’s pass for a try in the right corner with Emery adding the extras, 10-7.
Another New York penalty led to Waaka slotting another kick, 13-7.
After a New York charge down on a John Poland kick, and the Free Jacks under pressure, Poland had a short kick to touch. New York attacked and a Free jacks penalty had Jason Emery answering back with a penalty goal, 13-10.
With a Jason Paret break and an offload to Paul Balekana, he was tackled into touch by Jack Heighton and Waisake Nahol, saving a try. This led to a New York 5-meter lineout, but a knock-on turned the ball over for a Free Jacks scrum. New York drove and won a penalty and cleared for an attacking lineout.
Another Free Jacks penalty had New York with another lineout just outside the Free Jacks 22-meters. After a maul, the ball was pop passed by Kara Pryor to Brendon O’Connor and out to Heighton and Bonasso taking an inside ball went from player to player with Nick Civetta taking an offload in-goal, but losing the ball on contact prior to grounding to end the half.
New England went through phases to begin the second half. A New York penalty gave the free Jacks an attacking opportunity from a lineout at New York’s 22-meter. Poland attacked the blind side and was followed by forwards attacking with New York repelling the Free Jacks. A penalty then had Waaka slotting again for a 16-10 lead.
The restart was gathered by New York, but a turnover led to a Free jacks counterattack. New York was under pressure, but a penalty had Heighton clearing for an attacking lineout. The throw was long but was knocked on by the Free jacks resulting in a New York scrum and earning a penalty on the drive. New York attacked from a lineout inside New England territory with Nic Mayhew offloading to Andy Ellis to advance within the 22-meters. Milner-Skudder advanced to within 5-meters and a Free Jacks penalty had New York kicking for the corner instead of for the posts.
From the ensuing lineout, the team moved the ball wide right, and then back due to a penalty advantage. This time New York elected a 5-meter scrum. New England was penalized again with New York having an attacking scrum. New England’s defense then won a turnover at the breakdown and cleared.
New England’s LeRoux Malan thrilled the home crowd with an intercept and his kick ahead went into touch giving New York the ball around their 22-meters. New york defended and Milner-Skudder cleared.
After the Free jacks went through multiple phases, a breakdown penalty had New York clearing and attacking from a lineout inside Free jacks territory. New York advanced further after another New England penalty and moved the ball wide left from a lineout. An Ellis dummy and offload had Andrew Coe moving to within meters from in-goal with Nehe Milner-Skudder finishing for a try in the 69th minute. Sam Windsor slotted the conversion to take a 16-17 lead.
An Ellis high ball was taken by Coe and another Ellis highball cleared to Waaka who kicked back for another New York attack. The ball went wide left with Coe to O’Connor and back to Heighton. The ball was turned over with Beaudein Waaka racing down the left side and was tackled after kicking the ball. Reegan O’Gorman was cited for a yellow card offense for contact with the head prior to the Waaka hit.
New York opted for an attacking lineout deep inside New England territory with Bonasso gathering. New York then mauled and Tuiloma crashed ahead. Kiri Kiri, Tuiloma, and others picked n’drived before the ball was sent wide left with Andrew Coe scoring in the left corner in the 76th minute. Windsor then slotted the ball from touch to increase their lead to 16-24.
The ensuing restart was taken by Dylan Fawsitt and after a Free Jacks penalty attacked from a lineout at midfield. New York then utilized crashes by the forwards to wind the time down before Andy Ellis kicked to touch for the win over their rivals the New England Free jacks.
Rugby New York’s Canadian international Andrew Coe was named the Player of the Eastern Conference Final.
This season the teams met four times with each team winning on the road. Rugby New York’s win vaulted them into the MLR Shield Final on Saturday, June 25 at their home field in Hoboken, New Jersey. The Eastern Conference Champions have a four-match winning streak entering the Shield Championship and will face the Seattle Seawolves, the Western Conference Champions who also have a four-match winning streak.
Rugby New York met the Seattle Seawolves on May 15 at home and won 30-22.
Squads with Player Article Links & Match Preview
New England Free Jacks: 1 Kyle Ciquera 2 Mills Sanerivi 3 Erich de Jager 4 Josh Larsen (C) 5 Stan van den Hoven 6 Jesse Parete 7 Joe Johnston 8 Wian Conradie 9 John Poland 10 Beaudein Waaka 11 Paula Balekana 12 Le Roux Malan 13 Wayne van der Bank 14 Mitch Wilson 15 Dougie Fife 16 Foster DeWitt 17 Quentin Newcomer 18 Tevita Sole 19 Reegan O’Gorman 20 Cam Davidowicz 21 Holden Yungert 22 Jack Reeves 23 Terrell Peita
RUGBY NEW YORK: 1 Chance Wenglewski 2 Dylan Fawsitt 3 Wilton Rebolo 4 Ben Bonasso (C) 5 Nick Civetta 6 Antonio Kiri Kiri 7 Brendon O’Connor 8 Kara Pryor 9 Andy Ellis 10 Jack Heighton 11 Andrew Coe12 Jason Emery 13 Faasiu Fuatai 14 Waisake Naholo 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder 16 Kaleb Geiger 17 Nic Mayhew 18 Kalolo Tuiloma 19 Nate Brakeley 20 Joe Basser 21 Conor McManus 22 Sam Windsor 23 Quinn Ngawati