Jersey achieved a momentous result at Goldington Road, beating Bedford for the third time this season and earning a semi-final place in the British & Irish Cup.
After seeing off the Blues, the Reds will travel to either Yorkshire Carnegie or Moseley for a last four tie next weekend, seeking to secure a home final in the B&I on the weekend of April 9. [update: Jersey are away to Yorkshire Carnegie on Sunday March 20th - see HERE for details of live screening in the Clubhouse]
Head Coach Harvey Biljon paid tribute to the character of his side and the contribution of the whole squad in preparing for the game.
"The forwards set a fantastic platform and there was some really excellent composure at the end to nail down the win," he said. "It wasn't pretty, but it was knock-out rugby, and it's the result that matters, not whether you win by one point or 15."
Jersey's forwards wasted little time in showing their capabilities, with excellent kick-chase work by Rich Lane and Pierce Phillips securing an attacking lineout 10 metres from the Bedford try-line, and the power of the driving maul doing the rest, with James Freeman finishing off.
Jersey knew their kicking had to be accurate, and after a scare when Tom Griffiths almost broke through having taken a high clearance, the Reds were punished when Pat Tapley returned a box kick and put his fellow wing Dean Adamson in for a try.
Within five minutes, Blues were ahead - this time Griffiths and Piers O'Conor combined for a try, converted by Jake Sharp, whose earlier conversion had come back off the post.
There were opportunities for Jersey's backs, but Joel Dudley's handling around the base was fallible twice and a potential scoring pass from Lewis Robling to Oli Evans was knocked on. The equalising score came from a more familiar route, with a rolling maul try and Brendan Cope's conversion.
Jersey were playing down the notorious Goldington Road slope after the break, but it was the ascending Blues who struck within two minutes of the restart when a scrum penalty offered Sharp the chance of a straightforward three points. Cope could have squared things up soon afterwards but missed a relatively easy chance of his own.
Jersey scrum was still the stronger unit for the most part and another penalty brought a yellow card for Blues' replacement prop Camilo Parilli-Ocampo within a minute or two of coming on. Illegal binding was cited as the reason, although it seemed that cumulative offending by the home team was also likely to have played a part.
Just on the hour Jersey earned another chance after a high tackle on Rich Lane, and the combination of Cope and Nick Selway - throwing in after replacing Joe Buckle - set up another fine maul, finished by Freeman to complete a hat-trick (Lewis Robling added the extras having taken over kicking duties from Cope, who was a little off-colour in the latter stages, perhaps feeling the effect of a heavy knock).
Cheered on by a loud but frustrated home support, Bedford knew that a third try of their own could have been enough for the win, but were denied by a Red-brick wall in defence from the visitors and some poor handling which included a series of knock-ons.
A bold touch-finder from Sharp gave Blues' forwards the chance to show what they could do at the catch-and-drive, but Jersey held firm and secured a vital turnover, which prompted some pumped-up congratulations among those in red shirts and cries of illegal bringing down of the maul from those of a Blue persuasion. The incident was quickly followed by a penalty at which points tempers spilled over.
As the clock went into added time there was another chance for the hosts - a pass from Piers O'Conor to Tapley would surely have been a scoring one if the winger hadn't shelled it. This was to be the Blues' final opportunity, and for the last two minutes Jersey were able to keep the ball and secure a hard-earned and joyously-celebrated victory.
Jersey (1-15): Sam Lockwood, Joe Buckle, Simon Kerrod, Nick Campbell, Pierce Phillips, Alex Rae (capt), James Freeman, Nick Haining; Joel Dudley, Brendan Cope; Rich Lane, Lewis Robling, Oli Evans, Tom Howe, Ross Adair.
Replacements: Nick Selway (for Buckle 46 mins), Danny Herriott (Kerrod 53), Uili Kolo'ofa'i (Phillips 67), Sean McCarthy (Lockwood 67), Tua Otto (Howe 67), Jack Moates (Robling 70), Gary Graham (Freeman 76)
Bedford Blues (1-15): Alex Lundberg, Sam James, James Currie, Mike Howard, Paul Tupai, Justin Blanchet, Josh Buggea, Joel Conlon; Jordan Burns, Jake Sharp; Dean Adamson, Tom Griffiths, Michael Le Bourgeois (capt), Pat Tapley; Piers O'Conor.
Used replacements: Charlie Clare, Camilo Parilli-Ocampo (YC 56), Phil Boulton, Seb Nagle-Taylor. Unused replacements: Pete White, Myles Dorrian, Henry Staff.
REFEREE: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
Half Time: 12-12
Tries: Adamson 14, O'Conor 17
Conversion: Sharp 17
Penalty: Sharp 42
Tries: Freeman 7, 27, 59
Conversions: Cope 27, Robling 59
Report produced by kind permission of the Jersey Evening Post
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