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RFCLA Dazzle But Fail to Break Free Jacks Defense

MG 1826
2 weeks ago

Rugby Football Club Los Angeles kicked off against the New England Free Jacks needing a win on Sunday, April 28, at Dignity Health Sports Center in Carson, California. With a 1-5-1 record, RFCLA were still in the playoff race. The Free Jacks led Major League Rugby’s Eastern Conference with a 5-2 record.

Playing in perfect southern California weather — 70 degrees and 10 mph winds — RFCLA captain and flanker Matt Heaton, (No. 7) helped his teammates win some closely-contested rucks, mauls and lineouts in his 50th cap. RFCLA pulled off some spectacular runs and passing plays but the Free Jacks’ defense proved too much, giving the visitors a 34-12 victory.

RFCLA came out with a flying start, running the ball past the Free Jacks’ 22-meter line but failed to capitalize and gave the ball away for a scrum.“That’s a missed opportunity for LA. They had New England right where they wanted them,” said commentator Marc Stcherbina.

The Free Jacks quickly attacked with a long run by outside center Van der Bank (No. 13) but RFCLA flanker Semi Kunatani (No. 6) forced a turnover in the 8th minute. In the 12th minute, after a burst by Free Jacks fly-half Jayson Potroz (No. 10), RFCLA stole a lineout and cleared the ball but the Free Jacks countered and hooker Andrew Quattrin, (No. 2 ) touched it down between the posts in the 14th minute for the try and a 7-0 lead.

RFCLA came back with some strategic short kicks and a big tackle by Kunatani in Free Jacks’ territory, but a knock-on by inside center Dan Hollinshead (No. 12) inside the Free Jacks’ 22-meter area in the 18th minute gave the visitors the momentum again. A penalty against RFCLA for tackling full-back Reece MacDonald (No. 15) in the air led to a lineout at the 5-meter line. A series of mauls later, Free Jacks flanker Seta Baker (No. 7) made it 12-0. Potroz missed the conversion.

In the 25th minute, Kunatani slowed down a burst by Free Jacks flanker Mitch Jacobson (captain, No. 6) and wing Mitch Wilson (No. 14). After a series of passes and rucks, RFCLA intercepted a pass but the ball was called back for a high tackle by Kunanati. The referee pulled out a yellow card — RFCLA’s 14th of the season — and he went to the sin bin for 10 minutes.

Potroz and the Free Jacks backs continued to threaten RFCLA but the home team forced a few penalties and held them off. The Free Jacks missed No. 8 Wian Conradie, who is now out for the season with a knee injury, but their forwards and backs continued to collaborate as they have all season.

Following a scrum in the 33rd minute, a Free Jacks collaboration built up to a breakaway run by full-back MacDonald, whose pass to blind-side wing Danyon Morgan-Puterangi (No. 11) resulted in a team try and a 17-0 lead.

Kunatani returned to the pitch in the 35th minute, and Alex Maughan (No. 18) came on at prop, giving RFCLA a much-needed boost. In the 37th minute, the Free Jacks’ Potroz failed to keep the ball in play after catching a kick, and a short RFCLA lineout throw earned the home team a few meters before they passed it out to the backs. Fly-half Matt Anticev (No. 10) couldn’t run his way through the defense but he earned a penalty and a kick for touch. RFCLA took the lineout at the 5-meter line, and a chain of passes by the backs found open-side wing Jack Shaw (No. 14), who accelerated to the try line before diving over, cutting the lead to 17-5. Inside center Hollinshead (No. 12) made the conversion to make it 17-7.

Going into halftime, the Free Jacks had maintained about 66 percent of possession. RFCLA had made more than 80 tackles compared to roughly 30 by the Free Jacks, and had committed five penalties to the Free Jacks’ two.


RFCLA came out strong in the second half, kicking their way into Free Jacks’ territory. Bursts by Kunatani and substitute back Jason Emery (No. 23) kept the momentum going but a penalty allowed Potroz to kick his team out of trouble.

RFCLA’s backs made some strong runs but the Free Jacks thwarted them. A MacDonald kick clearance in the 45th minute turned into a chase and as RFCLA’s Shaw went to pick it up, MacDonald grounded it first. “That is an absolute momentum killer” Stcherbina said as Potroz’s kick gave the Free Jacks a 24-7 lead.

In the 51st minute, RFCLA’s backs and forwards finally clicked, with lock Mike Amiras and the pack making some short runs off the rucks before offloading the ball. Kunatani took it over for the try. Hollinshead’s kick from near the sideline went wide, but RFCLA were now trailing only 24-12.

Another breakaway in the 56th minute kept RFCLA in the match. A long pass by Kunatani out to Shaw allowed Emery to sprint deep into Free Jacks territory. Prop Conor Young (No. 3) combined with Kunatani with a run coming off a ruck but RFCLA failed to release the ball at the 5-meter line and the Free Jacks were saved by the penalty.

In the 62nd minute, RFCLA were awarded a penalty of their own, and a kick to touch gave them a lineout at the Free Jacks’ 5-meter line. A cross-field kick into the sun by Anticev failed to gain territory but a Free Jacks penalty brought it back for another lineout. RFCLA once again put together a powerful maul but the Free Jacks held them off. “This defense could be the difference in the end,” said commentator Stcherbina. “Another missed opportunity for LA,” co-commentator Kit McConnico added.

A series of impressive runs from both RFCLA’s backs and forwards, a breaking run by lock Jason Damm (No. 4) and constant hustle by scrum-half Niall Saunders (No. 9) kept the Free Jacks on their toes. But the Free Jacks defense proved impassable, and Potroz’s kicks on defense saved the visiting side. With about ten minutes remaining, the Free Jacks seized a Hollinshead kick and Potroz led his forwards in a grinding attack that took several minutes off the clock. “Patience, flat passes, nothing fancy about that,” said Stcherbina, as Potroz kicked a penalty to give his team a 27-12 lead.

A stunning breakaway in the 73rd minute by Kunatani and the backs looked to give RFCLA another opportunity for a try but a knock-on gave the ball away. In the 78th minute, the Free Jacks put the match out of reach with another try. Potroz sealed the 34-12 win with his conversion.

After the match, RFCLA wing Shaw praised his teammates for their kicking and “unreal” runs. “We’re lucky we’ve got people like Semi [Kunatani] who can pull something out of nothing,” he said. “And in the backs, we finally got to show a bit of what we can do.”

Young, RFCLA's tighthead prop said that going into the game against the Free Jacks, RFCLA had been training in order to “make the link between the forwards and with the backs.” The Free Jacks ultimately proved too strong, he admitted. “They’re good in all aspects,” he said. “They always bring it.”

In an earlier match on Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park, Canada’s women’s team defeated the US team, 50-7.

RFCLA, now 1-6-1, have a bye week and will face the Dallas Jackals, who are 4-4, at Choctaw Stadium, Arlington, Texas, on Friday, May 10, at 5:30 pm PST. The match will be broadcast on Bally Sports SoCal and The Rugby Network.

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