Game Day Report: Cara Cup New England Free Jacks vs Munster RFC
April 7, 2019
2019 Cara Cup game 4: New England Free Jacks vs Munster RFC
April 6, 2019 at the Irish Cultural Centre, Canton, MA
The New England Free Jacks are a Major League Rugby expansion franchise set to begin league play in the 2020 season. But this season, the Jacks have launched a very aggressive marketing and branding campaign to introduce the sport of rugby to Boston.
Their inaugural competition is a round robin tournament called the Cara Cup which brings the four provincial teams of Ireland to the United States for – I believe – the first time ever. I was interested in this match immediately when it was announced. My family, or at least my father’s side of my family come from Co Cork, which is in the heart of Munster, and when I became a fan of rugby, I adopted Munster. This, however, was my first opportunity to see The Men in Red play live. Sort of. Munster is a member of the Pro14 League. The P14 is in the middle of their regular season, so Munster (as the other 3 Irish teams) sent their “A” side, which is equivalent to their AAA team. These are players who have graduated out of the Academy Program, and are set to take over spots on Munster’s 1st Squad.
The game took place at the beautiful, sprawling campus of the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, MA. Right from the rip, you could tell that a lot of thought and planning went into the event. Overflow parking was easy to access (and best of all, free). There were bands playing Irish music, local teams were playing matches, and plenty of food and drink vendors.
The field was on par with a high school football field. Seven or eight rows of bleachers running from touch line to touch line with a pretty nice little press box and an electric scoreboard on one end. The prematch ceremonies were a little cobbled together and with an announcer who seemed to be doing the job for the first time, the pregame felt a little weak.
There also didn’t seem to be much in the way of tutoring for new fans, which I would have liked to see. I follow the game the best I can (to say I download matches via bittorrent when I can).
But, the game itself was wildly entertaining. The ‘Jacks opened up the scoring, but Munster responded with four tries before the break. Walking in to the game, I truly expected Munster to run the Free Jacks out of their own building. But considering the experience disparity, the Free Jacks stayed right with Munster throughout the game. But, carrying a 25-7 deficit into the break was encouraging.
Second half saw Munster cross the line early, but the Jacks rallied for two of their own tries in a 10 minute span late. When the ref blew the final whistle, 38-19.
It was an encouraging result, but also an encouraging experience. The Free Jacks have played 5 games as a team, two of them on the road, and to see the level of organization required to pull off an event like the Cara Cup so early in the club’s history is fantastic.
The Free Jacks are scheduled to join Major League Rugby for the 2020 regular season, which will begin this January.