Jacksonville Sports Day

RUGBY: Axemen Get Closer to Defending USARL Championship

Photo by Nancy Beecher

The 121 Financial Credit Union Jacksonville Axemen moved one step closer to defending their USA Rugby League (USARL) national championship with a big 68-0 shutout win against the Southwest Florida Copperheads in Saturday night’s South Conference semifinal.

Played in front of another enthusiastic home crowd at the UNF Rugby Fields, the Axemen racked up 12 tries en route to their lopsided victory.

And as has been the case throughout the 2019 season, the home team had several multiple try-scorers.

Winger James Williams had a stellar game scoring a hat-trick of tries, while backrower Jye Montgomery, center Josh Jackson and replacement back Hunter Lawson all bagged a pair of tries each. Fullback David Thomas, wing David Washington and back Zach Jones each chimed in with a single.

Hooker and main goalkicker Nathan Richter had another good night with the boot, converting ten of the tries for a game-high 20 points.

Full credit must be given to the Copperheads for making the playoffs for the first time in their short history, but they just couldn’t find an answer to the Axemen’s dominance on the night.

“I want to commend the Copperheads for their enthusiasm,” said Jacksonville head coach Sean Rutgerson.

“They came up trying to throw us off and the good thing to see from them is they just kept coming. By the end we wore them down and we got away on them, but even towards the end they still made a couple of line breaks and they tried for the whole game. I couldn’t be more happy for their players and their effort.”

Ball control was an issue for both teams. Although it didn’t rain during the game, the ground was wet which made the ball slippery. The match was also marred by a slew of penalties.

Fullback Thomas got things off to a good start for the home team with a try in the opening minutes and Richter obliged with a successful conversion.

The fans hardly had time to stop cheering that one before Montgomery got the first of his brace. Again, Richter was on the money to give Jacksonville a 12-0 lead which they held on to through the first quarter.

The Axemen are known for not taking their foot off the gas and they lived up to that reputation as center Jackson scored his first try not long afterwards. Richter’s conversion attempt was wayward, but the homeside was up 16-0.

Right winger Williams was the next player to get his name on the scoresheet when he broke through the Copperheads’ defense for the first of his three tries. This time Richter was on song and the Axemen extended their lead to 22-0.

Then just before the half, left wing Washington added to the tally with a four-pointer. The attempted conversion missed, as the teams went to the main break with Jacksonville in front 26-0.

Unlike last week, the coach didn’t need to say much during the intermission other than to encourage his players to keep up the pressure, and they responded in kind.

No sooner had the second half got under way and Lawson made his presence felt with a quick try off the restart. Mr Reliable Richter booted the extras for a 32-0 Axemen lead.

And the hits just kept coming.

First Jackson, then Williams and Lawson all scored their second tries of the match, all of which were converted by Richter, to push Jacksonville’s lead out to 50-0 with a lot of time left on the clock.

Williams, who clearly had an insatiable appetite for the try zone, posted his hat-trick with another bustling run. Richter added the extras for a 56-0 scoreline.

If the home crowd thought their guys might have eased up at that point, they were wrong as Montgomery and then Zach Jones closed out the scoring. Richter converted both tries to round out the night at 68-0.

“It didn’t all happen at the start for us and we took our time and were very patient,” added coach Rutgerson.

“What I’m happy with is our players’ discipline. We knew they were going to come up and try and upset us. They had nothing to lose and we were expecting anything and that’s what we got.”

The Axemen will host the South Conference championship game next Saturday against the Tampa Mayhem after Tampa saw off the Lakeland Renegades with a 68-6 win in the other semifinal.

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