Rally Celebrates Free Jacks Major League Rugby Championship

Hundreds of fans turned out July 15th for a rally at Veterans’ Memorial Stadium saluting the Major League Rugby champion New England Free Jacks.

The Free Jacks, who play their home games at the Quincy stadium, won the MLR title July 8 with a thrilling 25-24 win over San Diego in suburban Chicago.

The team arrived at the “Fan Zone” located just inside the Veterans’ Memorial Stadium gate on Merrymount Parkway in a trolley that made its way from Quincy Center to the stadium located across from Central Middle School. Players held the coveted MLR championship trophy called The Shield as well as the silver cup trophy symbolizing their win in the Eastern Conference finals a week prior to their title win in Chicago.

Many fans lined Hancock Street and Merrymount Park taking photos of the trolley and cheering their rugby heroes before filing into the “Fan Zone” where several players and other Free Jacks reps addressed their fans. Also speaking was Mayor Thomas Koch who noted Quincy – long known as the City of Presidents – can now hail as “the City of Champions.”

Here are some photos from the rally. More coverage in the July 20th issue of The Quincy Sun. All photos by Robert Bosworth, publisher, The Quincy Sun.

Quincy-Based N.E. Free Jacks Win Major League Rugby Championship

The New England Free Jacks capped a dream season with the franchise’s first league title, defeating the San Diego Legion 25-24 July 8th in the 2023 Major League Rugby Championship Final at SeatGeek Stadium in suburban Chicago.

NEW ENGLAND Free Jacks won the Major League Rugby Championship Saturday (July 8) with a come-from-behind 25-24 win over the San Diego Legion at SeatGeek Stadium in suburban Chicago. Inside center La Roux Malan scored the deciding try for the Free Jacks in the 77th minute. Free Jacks play their home games at Quincy’s Veterans’ Memorial Stadium.
Photos Courtesy Brendan Buckley

Inside center La Roux Malan scored the deciding try for the Free Jacks in the 77th minute, capping an instant classic between MLR’s unquestioned top two sides that featured four lead changes and drama from start to finish. Flanker and team captain Mitch Jacobson and wing Paula Balekana also scored tries for New England, and flyhalf Jayson Potroz went 2-for-2 on penalty kicks and 2-for-3 on conversions.

Wing Nate Augspurger scored two of San Diego’s three tries, with flanker Christian Poidevin providing the other.

A mistake by the Final’s most decorated player allowed the Free Jacks to open the scoring just four minutes in. San Diego inside center and New Zealand All Blacks legend Ma’a Nonu fumbled a routine pass inside the Legion 22, creating a chance for a charging Mitch Jacobson. The New England flanker, who assumed team captaincy following an early-season injury to Josh Larsen, recovered the bouncing ball and dove in for the game’s first try. Jayson Potroz’s successful conversion gave the Free Jacks an early 7-0 advantage.

San Diego responded six minutes later with an equalizing try by flanker Christian Poidevin, but successful Potroz penalty kicks in the 14th and 18th minutes put New England back in the lead. Potroz’s boot was a major asset for the Free Jacks throughout the season as the 31-year-old flyhalf led all of MLR in points scored.

The Legion then pulled ahead for the first time when wing Nate Augspurger broke through the line off a San Diego lineout and raced 30 meters for a try. The ensuing conversion by fellow U.S. international Will Hooley put the West champs up 14-13.

New England threatened once more late in the first half off a counterattack initiated by scrumhalf John Poland, but a penalty near the San Diego try line foiled the scoring chance. Hooley added a penalty kick at the first-half buzzer to make it 17-13 Legion after 40 minutes.

The Free Jacks then opened the second half the same way they began the first: by finding the try zone within the first five minutes. Malan sliced through San Diego’s defensive line and flipped a slick backhanded offload to flanker Joe Johnston as he fell to the turf. Fullback Reece MacDonald brought New England to within meters of the Legion try line, and a long-range pass from Poland off the ensuing breakdown set up wing Paula Balekana for a highlight-reel try in the left corner. Patroz’s conversion put the Free Jacks back ahead, 20-17.

Jacobson had a chance to extend New England’s lead minutes later following big carries by MacDonald and bruising No. 8 Wian Conradie, but San Diego’s defense held him up in the try zone. The Legion capitalized on that near miss, getting a second try from Augspurger in the 61st minute to reclaim the lead at 24-20. Hooley suffered an injury while kicking the conversion, however, and replacement Andrew Henderson missed a penalty kick five minutes later that would have stretched San Diego’s lead to seven.

That miss proved pivotal. With less than seven minutes remaining, New England controlled possession for more than a dozen phases deep in San Diego territory before Poland shot a pass to Malan, who powered through attempted tackles by Augspurger and Richard Judd to score the game-winning try.

San Diego made one final charge in the closing minutes, but a knock-on gave the Free Jacks a scrum, and Potroz kicked to touch to seal a victory that will be remembered in New England for years to come.

New England and San Diego were the unquestioned top two teams in MLR this season — cruising to first place in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively — and the gap between them Saturday was slim. Neither team led by more than seven points at any stage, and the margin was within four points for the entire second half.

The Free Jacks and Legion finished the season with identical 16-2 records, including playoffs. New England is 29-6 over the last two seasons, having lost to New York in last year’s Eastern Conference Final.

Potroz led MLR in points scored during the regular season. Balekana tied for the league lead in tries.

Former Patriots players Patrick Chung and Nate Ebner are minority owners of the Free Jacks. Both were in attendance Saturday.