Axemen Go Undefeated
By Brian Lowe Photos by Allene Rachal
The 121 Financial Jacksonville Axemen have stamped their authority on the SOUTH Conference with a 46-6 win against the defending USA Rugby League champion Atlanta Rhinos in their final regular season game of 2018 Saturday evening at the UNF soccer fields.
As has been the case so often this season, the Axemen got on top early and were never headed en route to an unblemished 6-0 record.
Winger David Washington got things started by scoring the Axemen’s opening try a few minutes into the game. Lachlan Bristow, back in the team after being rested last week, converted for an early 6-0 lead.
Bristow was next to score when he went in under the posts just before the first water break, and with the conversion, he moved the scoreline to 12-0.
The Rhinos made things difficult for themselves by spilling the ball while trying to get out of their own end to give Jacksonville additional possession and the home team made them pay.
Prop Kevin Wathen crashed over the tryline. Bristow uncharacteristically missed with the extras to leave the score at 16-0 as the first quarter expired.
Atlanta got their first real opportunity to score when Axemen lock Khalial Harris knocked-on in the play the ball inside his own five meters, but from the ensuing scrum, the Rhinos pushed the ball out wide where Washington picked off a pass and sprinted the length of the field for his second try.
Bristow’s conversion extended Jacksonville’s lead to 22-0.
The tries kept coming for the Axemen when Bristow chip kicked ahead into the Rhinos’ try zone from 20 meters out and outpaced the defense to dot the ball down himself. He converted his own score to make it 28-0 after 34 minutes.
From the restart, Jacksonville’s unrelenting pressure resulted in their sixth try of the half as second-rower Jed Pearce went in. Bristow’s extras made it 34-0 and that’s how things stood at halftime.
When play resumed in the second half, Atlanta immediately went on the attack but again coughed up possession right on the Axemen’s tryline to snuff out a scoring opportunity and again the hosts took full advantage.
They worked the ball down to the other end of the field where captain Jon Purnell forced the ball over the line while dragging several defenders with him. Bristow’s conversion was good to push the score out to 40-0.
Around five minutes later, the Axemen looked to have scored when halfback Montana Northcroft made a line break and toed ahead for Bristow to touch down, but the referee ruled Jacksonville was offside so it was no good.
The Rhinos finally got on the scoreboard when some wayward passing by the Axemen deep in Atlanta’s end saw winger Joshua Jackson scoop up the loose ball and run 80 meters to score a converted try. That made it a 40-6 ballgame as the match approached the second half water break.
Minutes after the break, Jacksonville went in again and again it was Bristow, who bagged another hat-trick, as he brushed aside would-be tacklers to take it in under the posts. He converted his own score to increase Jacksonville’s lead to 46-6.
As the game neared the end, both teams started to show signs of exhaustion brought on by the heat, humidity and physical nature of the contest and neither side was able to add to the scoreline.
Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson says he was particularly pleased with the team’s efforts defensively.
“We set the tone in defense and we had control. We had the numbers in there.
“In the past, it’s been a case of just tackling the guys and hanging on, but we’ve been working on getting them into positions so that when they get up and play the ball it’s on our terms and we’re set and ready to go.
“They did score one try but I’m happy with what we did.”
From Atlanta’s standpoint, they were missing a few players for various reasons as captain Nick Newlin had alluded to in the week leading up to the match.
The win further cemented Jacksonville’s dominance in the conference as they now prepare to host the Southwest Florida Copperheads in the first round of the SOUTH Conference playoffs.
In the other final regular season conference game, the Tampa Mayhem were given all they could handle by the Copperheads before eventually prevailing 40-32.