London Scottish 19 Jersey Reds 5216/03/2018
Sweeping aside London Scottish on their way to season-high marks of 52 points and eight tries, Jersey Reds showed no sign of dropping off their impressive recent form.
Defeated just twice in their last 12 outings, one a dead B&I rubber against Yorkshire Carnegie, Harvey Biljon's side are up to fourth in the Greene King IPA Championship with four matches to play. By the time the final whistle blew soon after Jason Worrall completed an eye-catching hat-trick, the Reds had passed a half-century of points for the first time in a league match since beating Cambridge (51-14) and Tynedale (0-64) on successive Saturdays in March 2012.
In contrast, the home side were a forlorn outfit by the end, without a league win so far in 2018 and stuck in 11th place, above relegation favourites Rotherham Titans, their next opponents.
The Exiles made a poor start when a penalty kick to touch by player-coach Jake Sharp fell short, and soon afterwards they were punished on the visitors' first meaningful attack, with Cope putting Mark Best through a gap under the posts. The Irishman has been an influential member of the Reds' midfield this season, but surprisingly this was his first try in 17 outings.
The lead was short-lived, thanks to an intercept by rangy Exiles centre Ross Neal, who raced half the length of the field to the posts after picking off a Jersey pass.
The equalising score was against the run of play, and otherwise the Scots scarcely had any possession inside their opponents' half. The Reds, in contrast, were dominant, with threatening attack and solid work at the breakdown and set piece, yielding several penalties.
A midfield breakthrough sparked by Nick Selway and Tom Pincus saw Kieran Hardy speed towards the try-line, and the ball was quickly fed wide for Scott Van Breda to score his fourth try in as many games. Then the Exiles had no answer to a powerful scrum near the posts, and Max Argyle was able to finish the job in textbook number 8 style.
It could have been even better by half-time, but a bonus point try went begging in the last play when Van Breda couldn't gather Apakuki Ma'afu's grubber kick with the line at his mercy.
The second half saw an increasing use of wide kicks to stretch the Scottish defence, watched by a master of that art Aaron Penberthy, who'll return to the Island this summer. Both Cope and Best were playing lead roles as playmakers, and the tactic paid dividends within 60 seconds of the resumption with Jason Worrall racing onto Best's canny crossfield chip and diving over in the corner.
The next try involved an audacious overhead pass by Best and Hardy's kick across for Ma'afu to collect in the air and stretch over, and a 24-point lead was a commanding one.
The second half wasn't without a wobble, however - the Exiles claimed two tries in quick succession through skipper Danny Kenny from close range, and Craig Holland finishing a slick move begun by Ben Mosses inside his own half, and the margin was down to 19-31. Not quite panic stations, but another home score could have scattered the Jersey pigeons somewhat.
Impressively, the visitors regrouped and regained their ascendency for the closing stages, bolstered by impressive impact from their replacements, including a first appearance in more than three months for hooker Jared Saunders and a debut for recent loan signing James Newey.
Prop Roy Godfrey was another introduced to the fray, and barged over for his side's sixth try to calm any nerves, and then the stage was Worrall's. Firstly, a made-in-South-Africa affair as Cope found Van Breda with a superb long, flat, pass near halfway and the co-skipper put in Worrall for a run to the line, and then it was another Best kick that allowed the blond winger to touch down in almost the identical spot for his hat-trick score, and his side's half-century.
London Scottish (1-15)
Jonny Harris, Isaac Miller, Phil Cringle, Llewellyn Jones, Oli Curry, Joe Atkinson, Matt Eliet, Danny Kenny (capt); Ed Hoadley, Jake Sharp; Joe Luca Smith, Ben Mosses, Ross Neal, Matt Williams, Craig Holland
Replacements: Dino Waldren (for Cringle 42 mins), Alex Walker (Hoadley, 48), Kyle Baillie (Curry, 51), Dan George (Miller, 60), Ben Onyeama Christie (Harris, 60), Matt Marley (Eliet 60), Jacob Atkins (Mosses, 75)
Jersey Reds (1-15)
Jake Woolmore (co-capt), Nick Selway, Jake Armstrong, Jerry Sexton, Dave Mckern, Rory Bartle, Conor Joyce, Max Argyle; Kieran Hardy, Brendan Cope; Jason Worrall, Mark Best, Apakuki Ma'afu, Tom Pincus; Scott van Breda (co-capt).
Jared Saunders (for Selway 53 mins), Roy Godfrey (Woolmore, 53), Alec Clarey (Armstrong, 60), James Newey (Ma'afu, 60), Joel Dudley (Hardy, 63), Uili Kolo'ofa'i (Mckern, 65), Jake Upfield (Bartle, 69)
REFEREE: Craig Maxwell-Keys; Assistants: Simon Adams, Ian Bibey
Half Time: 7-19
Tries: Neal 14, Kenny 56, Holland 63
Conversions: Sharp 14, 56
Tries: Best 6, Van Breda 18, Argyle 29, Worrall 41, 71, 76, Ma'afu 51, Godfrey 68
Conversions: Cope 6, 29, 51, 68, 71, 76