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New England Free Jacks Notch Second Preseason Victory Over Independents

By Liam Poach
Twitter: @PoacherRugby

The War of Two New Englands came to its conclusion Friday night, with the Free Jacks emerging victorious over the Independents 84-21, with Deion Mikesell taking home Man of the Match honors. There’s now just two weeks to go until the start of The Jacks’ inaugural season, and it’s full steam ahead from here.

Fans, players, and even coaches alike were thankful that this past weekend’s contest took place underneath “The Bubble” at Union Point, a pressurized tent of sorts that’ been erected over two of the complex’s athletic fields.

“Conditions and environment were a huge improvement to start with.” Said Head Coach Josh Smith, and that’s certainly no exaggeration, as temperatures last weekend dipped down to the low-20’s while those in attendance braved New England’s notorious January weather. 

As a result of the better conditions, The Free Jacks were able to exhibit a more systematic approach to the attack.

“It was nice to be a little bit more cohesive than we were last weekend.” Says Free Jacks Fly-Half Tadgh Leader. “We were a little bit more expansive with moving the ball around. It was good to see the guys on the outside make a lot of meters and be able to finish.”

Coach Smith echoed that sentiment from Leader. “Obviously we got a lot more play out of the backs, a lot more cleaner ball. We also did a much better job of building that connection between the forwards and backs that we were looking for last week.”

The increased comfort in the passing game was evident early in the first half, as Scrum-Half Tim Guilliman was consistently able to direct the attack in way that opened up gaps in the Independents’ defense. By halftime, the Free Jacks were up 42-7, thanks to an attack that was operating smoothly, and in a balanced manner between the forwards and backs.

However, it wasn’t just the Free Jacks that were showing signs of improvement, as The Independents followed up their eyebrow raising performance from last week to put up an additional 14 points in the second half against the professional side.

“The first game last weekend, we figured out what worked, what didn’t work well.” Remarked Independents Scrum-Half Ian Luciano. “So, going into this game tonight, we had a bit more clarity on what we needed to do and execute.”

While both teams were able to display marked improvement across the board, the end result was, perhaps, an unsurprising one. While the Independents continued to frustrate the ‘Jacks on defense, several big plays for the pro-side would put the exclamation on the victory, including a one-step line-break from Oliver Englehart (and a subsequent try later in the series), along an earth shaking run from Christian Adams that also resulted in paydirt. 

While a victory heading into the regular season bodes well for the team’s immediate future in 2020, the long-term benefits of the past two weekends cannot be overlooked as well. As professional rugby continues to grow in North America, providing pathways for local club, college, and high school athletes will become all the more important.

Ian Luciano, himself a player for the Mystic River Rugby Club and who has seen MLR action already with the Utah Warriors, recognizes how important having an accessible avenue to the pro-game can be in the league’s early stages. “Here in New England, there’s a good club scene here. I think it’s definitely good to have a clear pathway from a club perspective to identify good players. And just watching these games themselves I think we’ve seen a lot of good players with the potential to make the roster.”

Coach Smith agrees, and even more so appreciates the effort put in by all the individuals making up The Independents squad.

“It’s great to see a lot of these club guys that have been around the area putting their hand up and showing that they can compete against MLR players.” He says. “I think it bodes well for New England and the Boston area to keep this pathway up.”

With the future looking bright in the barracks of The Forge and New England Rugby as a whole, all eyes are now focused on The Jacks’ week one opponent, Rugby United New York, who will help write the next great chapter in the notorious Boston-New York rivalry.