Cornish Pirates 5 Jersey Reds 706/03/2017
A hard slog in the Mennaye mud ended in delight, and no little relief, for the visiting players and supporters.
The Reds banished the away-day blues they'd suffered on five previous trips to Cornwall and registered a gritty win that kept them in touch with the clubs fighting for places in the Championship's top 4.
Conditions were very tough, not just down to the muddy surface, but also because of a strong wind that was blowing diagonally down the ground towards the end that the visitors, playing in their blue away kit, were defending in the first 40 minutes.
Jersey had the better of the first quarter, dominating possession and territory without being able to get points on the board.
A Kieran Hardy grubber kick was carried across the try-line by scrambling Pirates' defence, giving the Reds a scrum platform five metres out. But the home eight were not an easy unit to shift, and this chance plus others from rolling mauls were repelled. Jordan Davies came close to scoring in the corner, but was ruled to be held up.
Neither side could sustain pressure, with errors coming from kicks - especially by the hosts - going straight into touch and regular handling errors with the greasy ball. The Pirates came back into the contest and moving into the last 10 minutes of the half they had forced Jersey back into their half. The Reds' tackling was solid, with one big hit by skipper James Freeman standing out, but then Jersey were penalised.
Although there was a chance to kick for goal, the home team opted to use their scrum, but after another penalty, the scrum went down and it was the Pirates who were penalised, enabling their opponents to clear the danger - gratefully.
With the wind in their favour and the advantage of having five forwards on the bench, it seemed the visitors were the happier of the two sides going into the break, and the Reds made a strong start to the second period.
Conspicuous throughout, Gary Graham made a magnificent 30-metre charge but couldn't find a colleague when he looked to off-load. Harvey Biljon only waited four minutes before beginning to ring the changes, and first man on, Jack Macfarlane, announced himself with a thunderous hit on Laurence May.
The Reds pressed forward with a relentless series of phases and this time they were able to get to the try-line, Sean McCarthy's powerful quick dart breaking the deadlock.
Having had mixed fortunes with his place-kicking since joining Jersey in January, Callum Sheedy showed a cool head and superb judgement with his conversion to make it 0-7.
Another score for the visitors could have put them out of sight, but when Freeman and Sheedy broke through the latter's 'scoring' pass to Kuki Ma'afu was clearly forward. Soon afterwards the Tongan made good ground and Sheedy tried a snap drop goal, but this time the wind blew the ball wide.
The home side took heart from the reprieve and were able to regain control final quarter in the same way as they had in the second. A break out of nowhere and kick ahead saw Jack Cuthbert temporarily lose his footing - this allowed the onrushing Pirates to hack the ball forward and Kyle Moyle won the race to touch it down.
With a conversion attempt to level the scores, replacement Will Cargill was kicking straight into the wind and his effort never looked like reaching its target.
The Pirates had around 10 minutes to find a potential winning score, and it was the Pirates who were in control during the agonising closing stages.
A penalty for offside saw the home side gain a lineout platform on Jersey's 22, and then another penalty took them to around five metres out. Secure lineout ball would surely have meant an unstoppable rolling maul with 14 or 15 men ready to join if necessary, but the ball was overthrown and landed in the grateful arms of Jake Armstrong. Jersey's replacement prop and his colleagues were in no mood to surrender it, and after one more scrum penalty they closed out the win.
It may not have been the striking high-scoring type of result that Doncaster and Ealing had each registered 24 hours previously, but nevertheless this victory in tough conditions showed that the Reds had the determination and cool heads to maintain their winning run going into the next encounter with the Pirates later this week. The B&I clash at St Peter under the Friday night lights promises more excitement and drama in - hopefully - conditions that are slightly more conducive to rugby.
Pic below of Gary Graham on the charge by Sue Trower. More shots available on the 'JerseyRFC' Facebook page
Jersey Reds (1-15): Sean McCarthy, Joe Buckle, Mark Tampin, James Voss, Pierce Phillips, James Freeman (capt), Gary Graham, Nick Haining; Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy; Nick Scott, Kuki Ma'afu, Jordan Davies, Ross Adair, Jack Cuthbert.
Replacements: Jack Macfarlane (for Buckle, 44 min), Jake Armstrong (Tampin 48), Jake Woolmore (McCarthy 53), Uili Kolo'ofa'i (Voss 58), Joel Dudley (Hardy 62), Max Argyle (Haining 66), Lewis Robling (Sheedy 66).
Cornish Pirates (1-15): Marlen Walker, Jack Innard, Paul Andrew, Jake Parker, Josh Caulfield, Alex Cheesman, John Stevens, Tom Duncan (capt); Alex Day, Laurence May; Kyle Moyle, Tom Hendrickson, Max Bodilly, Alex O'Meara; Toby May.
Replacements (used): Jack Andrew (for Paul Andrew 52 min), Dan Lee (Caulfield 57), Mike Pope (Day 57), Will Cargill (L May 66). Replacements (unused): Luke Chapman, Bar Bartlett, Nicolas De Battista.
REFEREE: Simon Harding; Assistants: Daniel Parrott, Michael Patz
Half Time: 0-0
Try: Moyle 70
Try: McCarthy 51
Conversion: Sheedy 51