Your New England Free Jacks enter their second full season as one of many teams who are relative unknowns. In many ways, the team sheet is similar to last year’s thoroughly decent 10-6 team, and with relative stability, should come improvement. They’ve also brought in some new pieces, which is good, but does not necessarily indicate that they will keep pace with the competition. New Head Coach Scott Mathie is an old hand at the coaching business, and will hopefully be a safe pair of hands for the team moving forward — hopefully he sticks around for more than one season. The top three from each division make it to the playoffs this year, so the ever-elusive goal of a playoff berth should be more attainable than in years previous.

Previewing the Backs

How this season will turn out really comes down to how Mathie chooses to run the attack. I said this in the recap of the preseason game against DC, but it may be a good idea to move the more attacking-minded Waaka to flyhalf, where he can use his boot to control the flow of the game. This is especially true given the introduction of the 50/22. Any team that has a tactical kicker who can take advantage of weak backfield coverage will be at a significant advantage, and Waaka has the best of Boyle in this department. It’s also potentially significant that Waaka was named to the leadership team, but not Boyle.

I do not think moving Waaka to flyhalf is essential moving forward if Mathie can identify a means of using Boyle as an effective ten as part of a successful game plan. I do not think this will yield as immediate results, however, and may take more time to set in. It has been a long time since the end of the last season and any new game plan will need a period of development and adaptation to how things shake out on the ground. Waaka is the starting flyhalf tonight at NOLA, as Boyle is injured, so it will be interesting to see how that works out, and if that continues to be the preference.

Also key is Fijian wing Paula Balekana, a new acquisition from Houston. He gets the start against NOLA today, so the question to be answered is whether he will gel with Barlow and Fife to create a dynamic backfield that can execute on the plays initiated by Waaka or Boyle. Another newcomer to the New England squad is Holden Yungert, the former Gold scrum-half, coming in to be a reliable backup behind the ever-stalwart John Poland. He will likely get his first minutes as a Free Jack tonight as well. The center pairing of Le Rou Malan, a young and nippy South African, and Jack Reeves, formerly of Gloucester in the premiership, is incredibly promising. These are two incredibly young players, 22 and 21 respectively, who both have much to contribute to the Free Jacks attack.

Previewing the Forwards

The pack is just as important to the new-look Free Jacks attack. Strong ball carriers among the forwards is essential to have crash ball and to work through phases. The line out appears to be pretty strong, which is indispensable to New England’s success this season. Being able to reliably convert penalties or 50/22’s into line out mauls into tries is key to generating points. One thing to watch tonight will be whether New England can beat NOLA at the lineout and how well they can convert that into points.

However, the key weakness on set piece is at the scrum, where New England was shaky last week. New England lost some front of their previous front row stalwarts in the off-season, but it remains to be seen whether the apparent slow start continues against NOLA.

The Eastern Conference

Every single team in this conference could win it. ATL has extensive problems, RNY got blown out by Austin in the preseason, NOLA has always been good, but not great, and DC has plenty of their own issues. Toronto is maybe the easiest bet to be a solid team, but even then, there is plenty of guesswork following last season’s rocky road trip. So much has changed, while so much has stayed the same. It’s just tough to know now what will matter and what won’t.

Your New England Free Jacks @ Gold

The Goldmine at the Shrine on Airline is the site of your New England Free Jacks’ first game of the season as they will take on the New Orleans and Louisiana Gold at 9 PM EST on FS2 and the Rugby Network. Because of a lack of data, this will be a pretty thin preview, but the match itself will be fascinating.

Who are the NOLA Gold?

Last year, NOLA were in New England’s category of being thoroughly respectable, but not yet a contender for the top spot. They are unique in the MLR in that they have only six international match-day roster spots (so only six out of their twenty-three match-day players can be non-American or non-Canadian eligible). This has led to NOLA fielding an all-North American starting pack. The theory of the league is that this is the future; increasing the number of domestic players getting professional minutes. Whether NOLA’s squad is quite at the point of maturity that they can so spurn international talent remains to be seen.

The Prediction

The consensus appears to be that this is an evenly matched game, but with an edge to NOLA. This is a risible consensus. New England by seven.

The Teams and the Deets

Weather: Cromulent, high 40's-low 50's.
Time: 9 PM EST
Broadcast: FS2, The Rugby Network

NEW ENGLAND

  1. Foster Dewitt
  2. Peter Jansen
  3. Erich De Jager
  4. Josh Larsen
  5. Reegan O’Gorman
  6. Joe Johnston
  7. Slade McDowall
  8. Terrel Peita
  9. John Poland
  10. Beaudein Waaka
  11. Harry Barlow
  12. Le Rou Malan
  13. Jack Reeves
  14. Paula Balekana
  15. Dougie Fife

Reserves

  1. Alex Johnston
  2. Mills Sanerivi
  3. Spencer Krueger
  4. Stan Van Den Hoven
  5. Cam Davidowicz
  6. Holden Yungert
  7. Mika Lomano
  8. Mitch Wilson

NOLA

  1. Matt Harmon
  2. Eric Howard
  3. Dino Waldren
  4. Malcolm May
  5. William Waguespack
  6. Moni Tongauiha
  7. Devin Short
  8. Cam Dolan
  9. Damian Stevens
  10. Robbie Coleman
  11. Nick Feakes
  12. Carl Meyer
  13. Juan Cappiello
  14. Harley Wheeler
  15. Kyle Rogers

Reserves

  1. George Sharpe
  2. Kevin Sullivan
  3. Brian Nault
  4. Taylor Krumrei
  5. Maciu Koroi
  6. Devereaux Ferris
  7. JP Eloff
  8. JP Du Plessis

end note

poor wales :( but wey-hey-hey for Scotland!

There will be a recap podcast on Sunday, find What the Freejack??? on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.