Jersey Reds endured a frustrating day to wrap up their 2021 schedule, with a strong final quarter giving their hosts Bedford Blues the spoils after an exciting Championship encounter in front of a boisterous Boxing Day crowd.
The Reds had shown great character to battle back from an 18-5 deficit at half time and take the lead soon after the hour mark, but Bedford were determined opponents and took full advantage of a brace of yellow cards for Jersey in the closing stages.
On an overcast afternoon, with rain abating during the hour before kick-off, the match started 20 minutes late following delays for the Reds on the coach journey from Heathrow to Bedford.
The visitors were playing down the Goldington Road slope and had an early opportunity to wheel out an attacking lineout following a penalty, but lineout possession was lost and the Blues cleared their lines.
After trying their luck with a couple of attacking lineouts of their own, the Blues switched to a more pragmatic approach when they were awarded their third penalty of the game and Will Maisey slotted the ball between the uprights.
The home side struck again almost immediately after the restart, launching an attack from 60 metres out that eventually saw Alex Day feed Jamie Elliott for a run to the line, Maisey converting to get his side into double figures.
Needing points quickly in order to get back into the game, the Reds almost had them after a Sean O’Connor charge-down was almost followed up to score, but then drew a penalty and Sam Leeming kicked to the corner again. The lineout and resulting maul worked well and Eoghan Clarke touched down.
The home side were searching for another score, mixing some dangerous running attacks with some probing high kicks, one of which went loose after two Red defenders collided. A penalty offence soon afterwards gave Maisey the chance to add another three points, which he took.
Blues added their second try during the closing stages of the half after an incisive attack saw wing Dean Adamson go close before being brought down just short by Ryan Olowofela. The home forwards followed up in good numbers and hooker Jack Hughes crashed over from close range, although Maisey missed the conversion after hitting the post.
The Reds had one further chance from an attacking lineout before the break, but were denied by determined defence from the home pack.
Enjoying their best spell of pressure during the third quarter, the Reds showed potential in attack. Macauley Cook and Jack Roberts teamed up for a nice move up the left wing and then a Leeming cross-kick almost fell for Olowofela on the opposite side.
But it was the familiar weapon of the catch-and-drive that eventually did the trick on two occasions after a flurry of penalty concessions as the home side struggled and captain Rich Lane was issued with a team warning. Clarke touched down both times to take his try tally to 10 for the season, and when Leeming converted the latter score against his former club to give the Reds the lead the 4,000 crowd went deathly quiet for a short time.
The Jersey lead was short-lived, with a penalty awarded to the Blues and Maisey – having missed with a shot at goal 10 minutes earlier – converting to make it 21-19. This was followed by an extraordinary bout of kick-tennis, which at least gave the forwards some respite as the ball was hoisted skywards at least a dozen times.
Both side made multiple changes, but two of the Jersey replacements were not on the field for long. With nine minutes to play, James Mitchell went for an intercept but could not take the ball and was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
Harry Simmons had entered the fray for the Reds in place of Will Brown, but within 60 seconds he was trudging off after his first touch was to knock the ball on while making a tackle – this was again ruled deliberate by Sir.
With the crowd in full voice as Bedford’s 16th man, and the Reds down to 13 players it was a tough challenge to regain the lead, and with two minutes to play the Blues delivered the coup de grâce.
The ball was worked wide where the Reds were unsurprisingly light on numbers and former Jersey player Rich Lane raced over and round towards the posts to touch down, an easy conversion for Maisey putting his side out of reach.
As the last play arrived the Reds still had hopes of a bonus point if they could kick a penalty, or two if a fourth try could be scored. With a scrum put-in 35 metres from Bedford’s line this looked possible, but the ball was quickly sent out to the backs and then inexplicably kicked away to allow Blues to clear to touch and end the game.
Although the Reds were disappointed to miss the chance to go top of the table while Ealing Trailfinders were on their bye week, the squad can take heart from an excellent first half of the season in which they were unbeaten at home and lost three times away – to Bedord by nine points, Ealing by six and Doncaster Knights by three – and ended the year third in the table just two points behind the leaders.
The Knights went top, above Ealing on games won, thanks to a 19-39 win at London Scottish, and the Yorkshiremen will be the Reds’ next opponents after the New Year break when they visit the Island on Saturday January 15th.
While the Reds have a bye week, their rivals in the top four are all due to be in action on New Year’s Day, with Doncaster at home to Bedford and Ealing hosting the Pirates at Vallis Way.
Picture courtesy Claire Jones, RedHatPhoto.co.uk
BEDORD BLUES: Rich Lane (capt), Matt Worley, Jamie Elliott, Ethan Grayson, Dean Adamson, Will Maisey, Alex Day (Connor Tupai 65); Joey Conway (Josh Pieterse 45), Jack Hughes (Jacob Fields 75), Ed Prowse (Karl Garside 45), Jordan Onojaife (Robin Williams 65), Luke Frost, Bailey Ransom, Joe Atkinson (Ollie Newman 54), Tui Uru (Oli Stedman 54). Unused: Pat Tapley
JERSEY REDS: Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Jack Roberts, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown (Harry Simmons 71, YC 72); Sam Leeming, James Elliott (James Mitchell 45, YC 71); James Flynn (Roy Godfrey 57), Eoghan Clarke, Steve Longwell (Luke Yendle 57), Sean O’Connor (Tom Everard 65), Macauley Cook, Max Argyle (Tom Pittman 79), Lewis Wynne (capt), Wes White (Alex Humfrey 61). Unused: Harry Doolan
REFEREE: George Selwood. Assistants: Darryl Chapman, Nick Marshall
Half Time: 18-5
Tries: Elliott 16, Hughes 38, Lane 78
Conversions: Maisey 16, 78
Penalties: Maisey 14, 36, 67
Tries: Clarke 21, 50, 63
Conversions: Leeming 50, 63
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