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Free Jacks Start Pre-Season Off with a Victory

The War of Two New Englands

By Liam Poach

There’s perhaps no better example of the hardiness of New England sports fans than hundreds of people coming together on a cold January day in Massachusetts to support a brand-new team. The New England Free Jacks, playing for the first time in the recently revealed Paladin kit, treated fans to a dominating victory over the New England Independents, a select side of local club players led by some of the top coaches in the state.

The game began very methodically for the ‘Jacks. The Independents’ defense was playing tight enough to prevent any big line breaks, but scrum-half John Poland was able to stay patient, leading The ‘Jacks to four total tries in the first half.

However, while the ‘Jacks were displaying a more developed chemistry, the Independents were showing their own metal in the trenches, particularly on tackles and in the scrum. The latter of the two would be the catalyst in the squad’s first and only try of the match, which would come after a well-executed engagement by their forwards deep inside Free Jack territory, allowing Big Man Cody Davidowicz to put it down in the corner.

Halftime came with a score of 24-7, illustrating two important points. The first being that the Free Jacks were executing well enough to put numbers on the board, but with the second being that the Independents were plenty capable of keeping pace with the ‘Jacks, and weren’t about to let it get out of control too quickly.

The second half came with a few changes in the lineup, with finishers such as Christian Adams and Scrum Half Erik Thompson coming in to get minutes for the ‘Jacks. The Independents, meanwhile, came out in the second with a clear uptick in intensity and urgency, forcing a number of Free Jack miscues and penalties that would give them continued set piece opportunities, while players like Jared Collinson and Cam Davidowicz would give the defense headaches with the ball in their hands. 

Despite the uptick, the Free Jack defense was able to hold strong when it counted deep in their own territory, forcing their own turnovers and penalties in response. Meanwhile, the Thompson-led offense would continue to hum, with Mitch Wilson in particular leading the charge on a number of defense-splitting runs.

“From first half to second half, the system started to build a bit.” Said Thompson. “We started to get more comfortable in the approach that we’re intending to take on. I think in terms of the season, it’s only going to get better as the boys get more comfortable playing with each other, the cohesion’s going to build.”

The Jacks would put up three more tries before the final whistle blew, the highlight of which was a perfectly aimed Tadgh Leader chip-kick over the top to Deion Mikesell. The game would come to an end with a final score of 39-7, with Mitch Wilson capturing Man of the Match honors.

While the cold temperatures certainly made handling the ball a difficult job on the day, Coach Smith acknowledged there were things the team would have to work on going into their matchup next week.

“It was a good first hit for us.” Says Smith. “Hats off to the Independents, they really gave us a lot of resistance. We fell out of our systems a little early and kind of fell into a bit of scrappiness. I’d like to see us work those systems a bit more. But, a lot of positives today with the guys getting tested in the cold.”

Perhaps the biggest positive to be had on the day was the true display of how much rugby talent now currently resides in New England. While other amateur sides have seen themselves blown
out by MLR squads in the past, the Independents clearly came to Union Point to compete, and the result was a passionately contested game that provided a chance for the ‘Jacks to build chemistry through real game experience against a formidable opponent.

In return, members of the Independents’ squad got to test and build their skills against some of the top rugby athletes in the nation, and in front of the Free Jacks’ coaching staff, no less. It wouldn’t be a surprise in the slightest to see a number of their players in a Free Jacks uniform at some point in the future.

Next week, the New England Free Jacks will face the Independents once again, though fans can expect a slightly different lineup for the Selects side in that matchup, with plenty more New England rugby talent left to showcase.