The Reds returned to winning ways thanks to a hard-fought win against a resilient Ampthill, coming from behind to seize victory through Jordan Holgate’s try with 12 minutes to play.
After successive defeats to Bedford Blues and Doncaster Knights either side of the New Year break, the visitors started with real determination and dominated the first 25 minutes.
Possession was secured directly from Scott Van Breda’s hanging kick-off and the home side’s defence came under immediate threat. A scrum offence and several other penalty concessions gave the Reds a series of opportunities, but attempts to get a rolling maul going were unsuccessful, the nearest effort being held up over the line.
The frequent use of grubber kicks behind the defence almost paid dividends when Van Breda was just beaten to the touchdown of a Pittman grubber, but the next time the Reds fly-half threaded a kick through the home defence couldn’t deal with it and Brendan Owen pounced to score his third try of the season, with a fine conversion added by ‘SVB’.
The Reds carried on in the same vein and looked by far the most likely side to score next, with Ampthill not helped by the loss of debutant scrum-half Harri Morgan with an ankle injury early in the second quarter.
But having soaked up a considerable amount of pressure, the hosts then struck on the counter. Having dropped a kick near his 22 minutes earlier, Joe Goodchild atoned with a run out of defence after fielding James Elliott’s box-kick, chipping over the cover and regathering. The ball was kept alive with great hands from Joe Bercis and Josh Bragman before Ben Cambriani applied the finishing touch with a 35-metre sprint down the left touchline to score.
In spite of their overall dominance, the Reds had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Further chances came to nothing, while the hosts had to play with 14 men after Cambriani cynically prevented the Reds recycling ball from a breakdown close to his own line. At one stage prop Luke Yendle crossed the line but was again held up, while there were some powerful runs from – among others – Jack Roberts and Tim Grey.
It looked as if the attacking lineout option was finally bearing fruit on the stroke of half-time. A maul rumbled towards the try-line before stalling momentarily with direction from the referee to use the ball and the whistle blowing just before Eoghan Clarke dived over the line. It was close, but no try… and there was no more time as the half-time whistle blew.
With efforts to capitalise from attacking lineouts having failed to bring points, it was no surprise to see Van Breda opt for the posts when the Reds won a penalty in the centre of the field 10 minutes after the resumption, and the full-back bisected the uprights to restore his side’s lead.
Shortly afterwards it was Jersey’s turn to go down to 14 men with an over-physical entry to a ruck by Eoghan Clarke sparking a scuffle and a yellow card for the hooker.
Ampthill took advantage to kick to the Reds’ 22 and then replacement scrum-half Kevin Barrett sprinted through a yawning gap to almost reach the line, something Bercis was able to do two phases later with the try awarded following consultation between the officials.
The visitors needed to dig deep in order to wipe out the deficit and showed an increased inclination to keep ball in hand. Van Breda’s massive touchfinder from a penalty set up more than a dozen phases of play, with debutant Alun Lawrence playing a prominent role, but a potential scoring pass from Will Brown to Lewis Wynne went to hand.
The decisive move came after the Reds attacked from halfway after fielding a clearance kick. Several phases put the home defence under stress, and when it came, the try was a simple one. James Mitchell took possession from a ruck, glanced left, hesitated momentarily and then delivered a short pop-pass to Holgate, who was running a devastating line and raced to the try-line. Van Breda converted and the Reds had a five-point lead.
The final 10 minutes featured half-chances for both sides, but the Reds were able to defend in relative comfort and had a chance to move clear when the pack won a scrum penalty in the penultimate minute. Van Breda summoned the tee and lined up from 30 metres out, but his high kick was adjudged (by the officials, with the kicker appearing to belong to a different school-of-thought) to have passed just to the wrong side of the upright.
The missed kick, Van Breda’s first of the game, meant Ampthill clung on to their losing bonus point and still had an outside chance of victory. But regaining possession from the 22-metre drop-out proved beyond them, and the Reds controlled the ball for a few vital seconds before Mitchell acted on the referee’s ‘time’s up’ advice and kicked it dead.
Four points meant the Reds slipped to fourth in the table, level with Cornish Pirates but behind the men from the Mennaye, who racked up a half-century of points in defeating Nottingham, as a result of winning one game fewer.
Next Saturday the Reds return to their home turf at Stade Santander International, with Richmond the visitors for a 2pm kick-off. Richmond defeated Bedford 22-19 on Saturday to complete a league double over the Blues, and although they lie ninth in the table, they have games in hand on the other sides clustered above them.
AMPTHILL: Smith; Goodchild (Gillespie 64), Cambriani (YC 33), Bragman, Skelcey; Bennett, Morgan (Barrett 23); Jack (Crean 46), Dickinson (Harding 51), Wainwright (Lutui 66), Beckett (capt), Devine (Burgess 69), Arthur, Bercis (Smart 55), Ryan. Not used: Bergin
JERSEY REDS: Van Breda; Owen, Roberts (Everard 77), Holgate, Brown; Pittman (Leeming 75), Elliott (Mitchell 61); Flynn (Godfrey 68), Clarke (YC 53), Yendle (Longwell 46), O’Connor, Cook, Humfrey (Argyle 51), Wynne (capt) (Doolan 58-63), Grey (Lawrence 51).
REFEREE: Charles Gayther. Assistants: Jack Sutton, James Clarke
Half Time: 7-7
Tries: Cambriani 26, Bercis 54
Conversion: Bennett 54
Tries: Owen 11, Holgate 68
Conversions: Van Breda 11, 68
Penalty: Van Breda 51
Why not come a chillout in the supporters marquee before the game, A fully stocked bar and food is available, seated and standing tables, on a first come first served basis and a great place to meet the Reds supporters.