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Monday Morning Fly Half: Freejacking a Win Streak

The New England Freejacks are on fire. Another nice victory comes in Week 10, as they send off the visiting Seattle Seawolves. But they aren’t the only ones. Rugby ATL looks to keep pace in the East, melting down the Gold in New Orleans. And the Gil-brothers, Austin and LA, both notch impressive wins. Together they round out what is looking like the favorites for the final four as we make our way through the back half of the season.

Boston Whalers

Like the ancestral New Englanders of Herman Melville’s day (though quite a bit less bloody), the New England Freejacks caught their whale on Saturday. They outlasted the visiting Seattle Seawolves 24-22, making it six on the bounce for the Waaka-led ‘jacks. 

Both of these sides have a somewhat similar style. Solid front-up defense, play making mostly done out wide, big play attack chops. But New England executed better than the visitors, using group tackles and pressure on the ruck to slow Seattle ball down. The Freejack tacklers were on their feet so quickly that they made Seattle work to recycle virtually every single phase. That, in turn, slowed the Seattle attack down enough that the New England defense could get back into shape and crash forward with good line speed. That, in turn in turn, made it difficult for Seattle to get the ball to their playmakers, as the Freejacks defense was on the ball before it could get wide. So on and so forth through a suffocating day for Seattle.

It shows yet again what New England can do, and how it is uniquely suited to success in Major League Rugby 2022. Their defensive shape and line integrity are among the best in the league. Combined with their physicality, that has proven a formidable approach to stopping most MLR attacking looks.

It also, however, highlights what sets a New England apart from a Seattle in form right now. Seattle also have a strong interior defensive presence (recollections of the famous Seawall never far off). But New England have their best playmaker at #10. Beaudein Waaka has taken New England from dangerous to elite. The ball doesn’t need to get far from the ruck to get to Waaka and once he has it, New England have the chance for a defense-breaking play. That was in stark contrast with Seattle, who had particular trouble executing through their half-backs this weekend. It did get a little better when AJ Alatimu came on, but that only further highlighted how dull that initial pair of JP Smith and Kieran Joyce turned out to be.

So it was another win for the Freejacks, whose 8-1 record is now tops in MLR. For Melville, the New Englanders were the whalers. But in MLR 2022, New England are quickly becoming the Moby Dick of the season.

Rattlesnake Infestation

Rugby ATL overcame an early NOLA lead to keep pace with New England this week. NOLA started hot, with a fancy try in the opening minutes. 

But they could not hold the ascendancy, as Rugby ATL answered back with authority. John-Roy Jenkinson ate the NOLA scrum for lunch, and it took the Gold half the game to figure out how to keep from getting rolled, even on their own feeds. The Rattlers leveraged their advantage in the scrum to keep the attacking pressure high on NOLA, who were ultimately unequal to the task of keeping ATL from crossing the whitewash. With three unanswered tries at the 16’, 20’ and 29’ minute marks, Atlanta looked to have the upper-hand in a overall frenetic contest.

NOLA did draw it close with their own run of tries - one before the half and one at 54’. But with the score having narrowed, Atlanta turned the gas back on and pulled away for the 34-17 win.

Rugby ATL’s attack has turned out to be one of the most consistent in the league this year, averaging near 30 points a game. They’ve done it by taking last season’s thoughtful shape and approach and jamming it with a shot of adrenaline. Everything seems to be in fast forward. 

Against NOLA, who also likes to play at a quick tempo, it was an exciting affair with highlights on both sides. But can that work against more disciplined sides? In their two losses, they conceded 36 points to New York and 41 to the Freejacks, respectively. Neither of those sides are generally considered high-powered attacks. One must wonder if Atlanta’s pace of play is creating openings for well-organized opponents to exploit.

Gil’s Thrills

Both the Austin Gilgronis and the LA Giltinis stormed to victory this weekend, seizing joint control of the top of the West. Austin started it with an encouraging win over San Diego Legion, who drop into third place. Though Austin’s try in the waning minutes give the final score a lopsided appearance that does not well describe the closeness of the contest, Austin still did what winning teams need to do. They showed up at critical moments and won the key battles.

This, combined with their impressive win over Houston last week, have Austin once again trending in the right direction. They recover from their pair of back-to-back defeats against New England and Atlanta and hold onto sole possession of first in the West.

In LA, nothing about the 43-0 score might be misleading. The Giltinis absolutely pummeled Rugby New York, who looked lifeless and flat. That makes it four wins in a row for LA, and three of them over solid opposition (San Diego, Seattle, New York). They’ve leveraged the win streak to climb past San Diego and give the Gils a lock on the western conference.

Heading into the home stretch, the rest of the west will need to figure out an answer or face e-Gil-mination.