Rotherham Titans 23 Jersey Reds 1620/11/2016
With storm force winds and driving rain back home, Jersey Reds were pleased to run out on a firm surface at Clifton Lane with calm and sunny conditions overhead.
There was nothing calm about the opening exchanges, which saw an early scrum on halfway breaking up, sparking some feisty exchanges between the forwards and a penalty to the Reds. Sam Katz, picking up where he left off from the winning kick against Cornish Pirates a fortnight previously, made light of the 48-metre range and stroked the ball over.
Although the hosts drew level with a Will Robinson penalty, the Reds were in the ascendancy for most of a scrappy first half. Their efforts earned three more penalty attempts, but although Katz landed his second from the right-hand touchline, he missed two easier shots that could have seen Jersey build a more significant lead.
There was frustration from the home crowd as there were numerous scrums, few of which concluded with anything other than a penalty - the Reds holding a slight edge overall - or a reset.
The Reds looked to test the Titans defence, who foiled a series of charging runs through the middle by the Jersey forwards, with James Voss - later named the visitors' man-of-the-match by the home chairman for a committed 80-minute effort - Nick Campbell, Nick Haining and former Titan Max Argyle to the fore.
The latter stages of the half saw the first serious threat to the Jersey tryline, with the visitors down to 14 men by this stage after Haining was shown a yellow card for a high tackle. The Titans attacked via a close-range lineout and ensuing maul, then a series of forward drives and finally a five-metre scrum, with Lewis Robling packing down in the Reds' back row. A penalty awarded to the attacking side offered the chance of further scrums and perhaps a try, but the Titans opted to take the three points to make it 6-apiece at half-time.
New signing James McKinney had shown some promising touches at fly-half for the Reds, but had also fired an attacking punt directly into touch and received some physical treatment from his former team-mates This led to his half-time replacement by another new signing, 20-year-old Wasps player Conor Dolan, who moved into the centre with Robling at fly-half.
After 49 minutes, the game was then brought to a juddering halt when Robling fielded a kick on the touchline and was floored as a result of a sickening - though accidental - clash of heads with pursuing Rotherham wing Ben Foley.
Robling's treatment halted the game for around 12 minutes, his departure greeted with applause from a home crowd who had earlier been slow in appreciating the seriousness of the situation.
Though the injuries disrupted the Jersey back line, with Sami Fisilau on at scrum-half, Katz outside him and Joel Dudley joining Kieran Hardy in the back three, the Reds were able to add impact in the forwards, with a new front row trio and flanker James Freeman entering the fray.
Though Robinson put his side ahead for the first time with his third successful penalty, Jersey were able to achieve an edge in territory and possession which eventually led to the game's first try. A charged-down kick gave the visitors an attacking chance on the right wing, where Dolan went close before eventually finding Jordan Davies, who dotted down in the corner. The conversion by Katz went in off the right-hand upright and the visitors led 9-13.
Inside the last 15 minutes, further pressure by the Reds was halted by a cynical intervention by replacement Dan Grange, bringing a yellow card. An attacking scrum was an option, but Katz was directed to take the straightforward three points.
The situation looked promising for Jersey against 14-man opponents; another score would surely have finished the job, but while the Reds couldn't take their chances, Foley did twice with devastating effect. Initially it was the Titans' pack who threatened, drawing a penalty advantage and then hurling the ball wide for Foley to finish.
After a tremendous touchline conversion from debutant Caolan Ryan with virtually his first touch, Foley struck again within two minutes as a Jersey pass went to ground near halfway and the winger won a footrace to the line.
The 14-point burst had a huge effect on the morale of both sides. Grange returned for the closing five minutes of a half that lasted a few seconds beyond an hour of elapsed time, and a final attack by the Reds to force a draw ended with a loss of possession and the final whistle.
A losing bonus point was little to show for the game, with the Reds slipping two places to 10th in the Greene King IPA Championship table.
'At 16-9 I thought we were going to get another score which would probably have won it, but we lost the ball close to the line, and then got turned over in another good position,' Harvey Biljon said.
'We were probably not as game-smart as we should have been. They recognised we had scrum-halves on the wing and at full-back and they exploited that - I'm not going to start blaming players when they were trying to adapt to the disruption caused by injuries and come up with a new game plan.
'I'm disappointed and I thought we played all the rugby, but we've come to Clifton Lane, which will never be easy, and in the face of considerable adversity we've come away with a point, so credit to the players for that.'
/*report by Tom Innes reproduced by kind permission of the Jersey Evening Post*/
Jersey Reds (1-15): Sean McCarthy, Joe Buckle (capt), Mark Tampin, Nick Campbell, James Voss, Max Argyle, Gary Graham, Nick Haining (YC 35); Joel Dudley, James McKinney; Kieran Hardy, Lewis Robling, Jordan Davies, George Watkins; Sam Katz.
Replacements: Conor Dolan (for McKinney h-t), Simon Kerrod (Tampin 44), Marc Thomas (McCarthy, 47), James Freeman (Argyle 49), Sami Fisilau (Robling 49), Jack Macfarlane (Joe Buckle 54), Uili Kolo'ofa'i (Haining 70).
Rotherham Titans (1-15): Toby Williams, Luke Cole, Joe Rees, Toby Salmon, Tom Hicks, Oli Curry, Tom Calladine, Tom MacDonald; George Tresidder, Will Robinson; Jake Henry, Joe Barker, Will Owen (capt), Ben Foley; Tom Hudson.
Replacements: Tom Williams (for Toby Williams 49), Danny Herriott (Rees 54), Dan Grange (Calladine 54, YC 66), Buster Lawrence (Macdonald 56), Caolan Ryan (Robinson 68)
Not used: Joe Graham, Matt Walsh.
REFEREE: Mike Hudson
Half Time: 6-6
Tries: Foley 71, 74
Conversions: Ryan 71, 74
Penalties: Robinson 5, 37, 51
Try: Davies 57
Conversion: Katz 57
Penalties: Katz 2, 8, 66