Axemen Clinch Grand Final Berth

The Jacksonville Axemen have clinched a spot in the USA Rugby League national championship game with a 44-16 victory over the defending champion Atlanta Rhinos in the SOUTH Conference final.
Axemen Clinch Grand Final Berth

As has been the case in just about every game this year, the Axemen got out in front early and were never headed on the way to Saturday’s win.

For the most part Jacksonville controlled the game as they outscored the Rhinos eight tries to four.

From Atlanta’s standpoint, and as was the case when these two teams last met in Jacksonville, they spilled a lot of ball that cruelled their opportunities. On top of that, they also gave away needless penalties that stalled their momentum.

Uncharacteristically, the game was marred by niggle by both teams, something that irked Axemen head coach Sean Rutgerson.

“Atlanta was niggly and we were reactive to it. It’s not part of what we do here in Jacksonville, but obviously I’m glad we still did enough to win it.”

Jacksonville hooker Lachlan Bristow again led by example scoring a hat-trick of tries and booting a slew of conversions.

He got proceedings underway just three minutes in when he scored and converted his own try for a 6-0 lead.

Prop Kevin Wathen, never one who’s far from the action, scored next and with Bristow’s extras it was suddenly 12-0.

A second try to Bristow and a 25-meter solo effort by second-rower Jed Pearce extended the home team’s lead to 24-0.

Needing to be the next to score, Atlanta put together a series of completed sets, aided by Axemen penalties, and finally scored out wide by creating an overlap for left winger AJ Tacornal. The attempted conversion missed, leaving the halftime score at 24-4 to Jacksonville.

The Axemen opened the second half with Bristow’s third try to make it 30-4 and then right winger Tyler McClain finished off a cross field passing movement by finding some space on the fringes to score. Bristow’s conversion was wide, leaving the scoreline at 34-4.

By that stage, Atlanta was playing for pride and pegged one back when prop Jordan Heine scored out wide following Rhinos pressure. The extras were no good to make it a 34-8 ballgame as the match paused for the second half water break.

After the break tries by left winger David Washington and lock Desta Bailey pushed Jacksonville’s cushion to 44-8, but the Rhinos made the scoreline more respectable with two late tries for a final score of 44-16.

Rhinos captain Nick Newlin says his team went into the game with the mindset that it was their game to lose and the pressure was on the Axemen.

“They’re a really good team this year and they showed it and unfortunately we kind of took a step backwards. When you’ve got a couple of imports who are good, solid players it really helps to run your offense through them. On defense they’ve got great discipline and it showed.”

The Axemen will host the Brooklyn Kings in the USA Rugby League national championship game on Saturday, August 25.