Jersey 27 Plymouth Albion 4115/09/2013
Jersey 27 Plymouth Albion 41
A promising opening to Jersey's 2013/14 league campaign culminated in an unhappy ending, writes Tom Innes.
Leading 15-13 at half-time against Plymouth Albion, and stretching their lead to 21-13 soon after the break, the Islanders conceded four tries in the final 25 minutes to their pacy opponents, and ended up well beaten.
In the first part of a double-header line-up at Exeter's Sandy Park, Jersey and Albion squared up in front of the Sky cameras on a windy and at times rainy afternoon.
After Dan Mugford and Aaron Penberthy traded penalties, Jersey claimed the opening try when a penalty was kicked to the corner and a catch-and-drive lineout ended with number 8 Tom Brown claiming the touch-down. Once again Albion replied in kind, with lock Ien Ascroft-Leigh barging his way over and Mugford adding the extras to put his side 8-10 in front.
The highlight of the first half for Jersey was a superb try after 22 minutes, with the influential Nicky Griffiths linking well with Fred Silcock to put Ed Dawson in for a try. This was enough to give Jersey the lead at the break, even though Mugford added a further penalty. Jersey had other chances to add to their points total, and showed a willingness to try and gain tries from penalties rather than go for goal, but were denied by Albion, whose centre Pale Nonu may have been fortunate to escape a yellow card for a knock-on that some officials might have ruled deliberate. Nonu was a thorn in his opponents' side in the closing stages of the half, twice releasing Lewis Warner for surging runs that came close to adding to his side's try tally.
Jersey's margin was only two points, but things looked promising given that the strong wind would be in their favour in the second period. Penberthy, called up on the eve of the match when Niall O'Connor was injured, had an excellent afternoon with the boot, and twice stretched Jersey's lead after the break, the second kick following a searing touch-finder from colleague Grant Pointer.
With the elements and the scoreboard against them, Albion needed inspiration, and turned the match on its head with two tries in three minutes. Jersey's tackling was inadequate on both occasions, but credit also needs to be given for Plymouth's attacking zeal, crowned with superb runs to the line by Tom Bowen and Chris Elder.
The double blow could have destabilised Jersey, now trailing 21-27, but in fact the Island side responded with great determination. Penberthy slotted another penalty when Albion's Rob Langley committed a professional foul close to his try-line but was saved from the sin-bin because the officials had been unable to discern which Albion player offended. And Jersey's fly-half then struck a howitzer from half-way to tie the scores with around 15 minutes remaining.
Langley may have been fortunate to stay on the field, and his role as an impact substitute remained prominent. Firstly he crossed for a try that restored Albion's lead and earned the Devonians a try bonus point, and then he committed a dangerous tackle on Jersey replacement Dave Felton that might have earned a red card, but instead earned a yellow.
Jersey continued to press for a potentially trying score against their 14-man opponents, but in what turned out to be their final attack Mark Foster lost possession and the ball was seized by James Shanahan. Plymouth's newly-appointed Player-Coach might have kicked for touch to run down the clock, but instead he beat a man and released Elder for a 70-metre dash to the line. The last-minute try deprived Jersey of a losing bonus point, while Mugford's conversion completed a perfect 7/7 afternoon with the boot for him.
Jersey travelled back to the Island without flanker Latu Makaafi, who suffered a suspected broken jaw and was sent to a nearby hospital. The Islanders will look to bounce back from the defeat when they entertain Bedford at St Peter this Saturday, k-o 3pm.
Jersey: G Pointer, M Foster, D Locke, D Bishop (T Cooper 51), E Dawson, A Penberthy, N Griffiths (J Dudley 78); S McCarthy (T Fidler 76), E Taione (D Felton 69), D Young, N Campbell, A Rae (capt), B Maidment (L Makaafi 54, D Markham 72), F Silcock, T Brown. Sub not used: N Selway
Tries: Brown, Dawson
Pens: Penberthy 5
Plymouth Albion: C Elder, T Bowen, T Howley-Berridge, P Nonu (H Stevens 51), L Warner (J Shanahan 66), D Mugford, P Rowley (R Cushion 48); D Morton (B Rogers 54), D McGregor (G Evans 54), M Shields, I Ascroft-Leigh (R Langley 48 - YC 75), B Beukeboom, S-M Stephen, E Grace (S Matavesi 57), R Oakley (capt)
Tries: Ascroft-Leigh, Bowen, Elder 2, Langley
Cons: Mugford 5
Pens: Mugford 2
Referee: Simon Harding (RFU)