Jersey Reds 14 Ealing Trailfinders 4514/04/2019
Another below-par display on home turf by the Reds was ruthlessly punished by visitors Ealing. The Trailfinders racked up seven tries, five of them in a devastating first half, to underline why they've been the only side to mount a sustained challenge to promotion favourites London Irish this season.
Pre-match optimism of giving the Championship's second-ranked side a real contest, enhanced by a sunny day and a lively crowd, was blown away. The eventual tally of 45 points conceded was the highest in a home league match since Jersey reached level two seven seasons ago, the 31-point margin of defeat surpassed only by the 0-34 result against Yorkshire Carnegie in April 2016.
The visitors didn't wait long to make their presence felt, stealing possession from their hosts at the opening lineout in the second minute and then breaking through in midfield. Kieran Murphy made the initial carry and then executed a neat one-two with back row colleague Andrew Durutalo to score.
Ealing's back three were the next unit to showcase their skills after the ball was fed wide from a quickly-taken free kick. Reon Joseph made ground and found fellow winger James Cordy-Redden, who progressed at speed up the left flank before providing David Johnston with the scoring pass.
The atmosphere lifted a notch when Brett Herron found a gap in the Trailfinders defence and the supporting Conor Joyce fed Liam Howley for the Reds' opening score, but the visitors roared back with three more tries before the break. Alun Walker and Murphy were the scorers from a brace of powerful mauls, and then fly-half Craig Willis jinked his way through after a spell of pressure.
Introducing three tactical replacements before the half-time whistle sounded was a sign of the frustration felt by the Reds' squad and coaching team, but there was no let-up as the second period began. An early penalty enabled the Reds to gain a platform in their opponents' 22, but play then went the length of the field and Willis's break led to a try for Durutalo within three minutes of the restart. The final Ealing try was claimed by Pat Howard after good handling between Lewis Jones, Jordan Burns and the tireless Murphy.
Jersey showed greater resolve in both defence and attack in the second period, and were able to pressurise their opponents into conceding some penalties, but a number of attacking opportunities were spurned. A storming run in front of the clubhouse by Jason Worrall ended with the attack breaking down, and Will Homer's run seemed certain to put in James Newey, only for the pass to slip through the recipient's outstretched fingertips; the only points came when replacements Homer, Nick Selway and Jake Upfield combined for the latter to cross.
Jersey director of rugby Harvey Biljon admitted that there'd need to be some soul-searching in the dressing room and when the squad reviewed the match after the weekend.
"Give Ealing credit, they outplayed us in all areas," he said. "But I'm frustrated at a performance like that in front of our home support and you could tell in the dressing room at half-time that the players were embarrassed - they'll need to be reminded that the season's not over."
Having lost four of their last five outings at Stade Santander International, the Reds will be desperate to deliver a win in front of their home support when Coventry come to the Island in the fortnight for the final round of this season's Greene King IPA Championship. Before that, the Jersey squad will make their last away trip of 2018/19, taking on Nottingham at Lady Bay on Good Friday (kick-off 7.45pm).
Ealing director of rugby Ben Ward was pleased to see his side maintain their good form and keep the pressure on promotion favourites Irish, who need wins over Hartpury and Richmond to seal the title before they play the Trailfinders in round 22.
"We knew it would be tough and physical and that we'd have to man up and win the contact area in order to get on the front foot, and we did that well." he said. "We'd said after losing at Richmond in March that we wanted to play our style of rugby and I was delighted with what the boys delivered today."
JERSEY REDS: Herron; Van Dam, Ma'afu, Best (Newey 37), Worrall; Penberthy, Howley (Homer 37); Godfrey (Morley 60), Macfarlane (Selway h-t), Atalifo (Rodman 49), Sexton (c), McKern (Bartle 37), Hatherell, Joyce, Venter (Upfield 49).
EALING TRAILFINDERS: Johnston (Harries 64); Joseph, Jones, Howard, Cordy-Redden; Willis, Burns (Foley 73); Els (Cornish 71), Walker (Beesley 77), Millar-Mills (Davis 65), Dickinson (Landry 20), Casson, Murphy, Durutalo, Smid (c) (Denton 67)
REFEREE: Tim Wigglesworth. Assistants: Shane Lewis, Lionel Spooner
Half Time: 7-33
Man-of-the-match (as chosen by match sponsor HSBC): Kieran Murphy (Ealing)
Tries: Howley 12, Upfield 66
Conversions: Penberthy 12, 66
Tries: Murphy 2, 24, Johnston 7, Walker 14, Willis 35, Durutalo 43, Howard 56
Conversions: Willis 2, 7, 14, 35, 56