Bedford Blues 39 Jersey Reds 3728/12/2016
At the scene of one the club's greatest triumphs, Jersey Reds suffered a sickening late defeat to Bedford Blues.
A Boxing Day crowd of 4,621 at Goldington Road went wild as George Perkins went under the posts with the last play of a pulsating match in which the lead changed hands a dozen times. The ensuing conversion sealed a 39-37 win for the home side on the ground where Jersey famously avoided relegation with a heroic win in April 2014.
Two bonus points were little consolation for the Reds, who were left frustrated, particularly by a scrum penalty against a previously-dominant Jersey pack immediately prior to the killer score. The visitors had controlled large parts of the match and forged a 10-point lead late in the game, but it was not enough.
On a crisp, chilly afternoon with little wind, both sides looked to attack in the early stages whenever they got the opportunity. The first chance came when Blues showed their attacking potential in fielding a clearance kick from Sami Fisilau. Dean Adamson burst forward, linked with fellow winger Perkins and then regained the ball to race to the line.
Jersey's first attack came via a powerful rolling maul that made at least 15 metres and drew a penalty advantage that saw the Reds work the ball wide, with Sam Katz finding Ross Adair on the outside with a long pass and the try being scored.
A kick through by Blues' full-back Matt Gallagher set up a footrace which he won easily for his side's second try, but once again the hosts' lead was short-lived. Bedford seemed to have worked out a means of stopping the Reds' maul, but the ball broke to Sami Fisilau from close range. Spotting a gap perhaps caused by the absence of Blues' flanker Josh Buggea, sin-binned for felling the Tongan off the ball a little earlier, Jersey's scrum-half nipped over.
Myles Dorrian gave the Blues the lead with a penalty, but the Reds were back in front by half-time, thanks to a superb jinking run by Katz, at the end of which the fly-half found Kuki Ma'afu for a straightforward finish. Katz added his third successful penalty, although he was off-target for the first time soon after the restart with a penalty attempt.
With the Goldington Road slope in their favour, Jersey were hoping to close out the game, but the home side still looked dangerous and Tom Farrell raced through to put his side back in the lead, although Dorrian's conversion was charged down by Jordan Davies and there was only a point in it, with a Katz penalty soon restoring the Reds' lead.
Former Red and home captain Michael Le Bourgeois was the next scorer in a topsy-turvey afternoon when he was first to reach a delicate Dorrian grubber kick, but Katz once again struck from the kicking tee and levelled the scores at 27-apiece on the hour.
By this stage the Reds had begun to utilise a replacements' bench that included impact players like Uili Kolo'ofa'i and Simon Kerrod. Jersey's scrum was especially powerful in the second half and drew a stream of penalties. James Freeman finished a rolling maul for the visitors' fourth try - the first time all afternoon that either side had achieved consecutive scores - and after Katz nailed the conversion and another penalty there was more daylight between the sides - at 27-37 - than had been the case throughout the match.
After a malfunction with the clock, no-one was sure how long remained, but Bedford never gave up and Gallagher, son of former All Black John, went over for his side's fifth try. Even though Blues missed another conversion, home hopes still flickered with Ma'afu banished for foul play in the build-up to the try, but Katz had the chance to finish matters with a penalty attempt, following a scrum, that could have given Jersey an eight-point lead.
But the kick went agonisingly wide and there was still a chance for the home side, especially when they won an unlikely scrum penalty, with the referee's whistle sounding before Kieran Hardy had the chance to put the ball in. The Blues weren't going to wait and discuss the whys and wherefores of the decision with the officials - they were running the ball with purpose at Jersey's 14-man defence, and eventually Adamson combined with Perkins to set up the tying score.
Reds head coach Harvey Biljon was bitterly disappointed, but paid tribute to his side's efforts.
"That decision at the end was critical, and it hurt us, but that's the way it goes," he said. "What a great contest, in front of a huge crowd, and I thought our team put in a great 80-minute effort, but we just couldn't complete a couple of tackles late on, then the scrum decision went Bedford's way and we'd lost the game.
"Sam Katz kicked really well today and I'm not going to blame him - kickers win you games, they don't lose them. It was another strong performance by an injury-hot squad and we'll be desperate to get a win in front of our home crowd against Ealing on New Year's Day."
Jersey Reds (1-15): Marc Thomas, Joe Buckle, Mark Tampin, Nick Campbell, Dave McKern, James Freeman (capt), Gary Graham, Nick Haining; Sami Fisilau, Sam Katz; Jordan Davies, Heath Stevens, Kuki Ma'afu (YC 77), George Watkins; Ross Adair.
Replacements: Simon Kerrod (for Tampin 46 minutes), Uili Kolo'ofa'i (McKern 58), Jack Macfarlane (Buckle 61), Sean McCarthy (Thomas 61), Max Argyle (Haining 69) Kieran Hardy (Fisilau 71). Not used: Joel Dudley
Bedford Blues (1-15): Hayden Thompson-Stringer, Jacob Fields, Ben Cooper, Mike Howard, Will Carrick-Smith, Justin Blanchet, Josh Buggea (YC 19), Paul Tupai; Jordan Burns, Myles Dorrian; Dean Adamson, Tom Farrell, Michael Le Bourgeois (capt), George Perkins; Matt Gallagher.
Replacements: Dan George (for Fields 51 minutes), Billy Walker (Cooper 53), Jack Culverhouse (Thompson-Stringer 53), Ben Adams (Tupai 59), Jake Sharp (Dorrian 61), Tom James (Burns 64), Ed Taylor (Howard 67).
REFEREE: Andrew Jackson; Assistants: Adam Leal, Ian Bibey
Half Time: 17-21
Dorrian (Blues) 3 from 5; Sharp (Blues) 1 from 2; Katz (Jersey) 7 from 9
Tries: Adamson 2,16, Farrell 44, Le Bourgeois 53, Gallagher 78, Perkins 80
Conversions: Dorrian 2, 16, Sharp 80
Penalty: Dorrian 32
Tries: Adair 9, Fisilau 20, Ma'afu 38, Freeman 66
Conversions: Katz 9, 20, 38, 66
Penalties: Katz 50, 61, 72