Taking on Bedford Blues at their own game, Jersey Reds claimed a thrilling victory ranking as one of the club's finest away wins during their six seasons in the Championship.
This was the second epic match in succession between the two sides at Goldington Road. Blues won 39-37 on Boxing Day 2016, claiming six of the 10 tries scored, but in equally cold, still conditions, Jersey claimed five tries to their hosts' four to register just their second try bonus point of the season.
It's unlikely that the pre-match interviews in the supporters' marquee were streamed live to the visitors' changing room, so the Reds squad may not have heard themselves described as 'the most boring team in the league' by an injured Bedford player. But there was nevertheless an air that Jersey were being underestimated, potentially bracketed as one-dimensional, and it was ironic that the Blues' first scoring threat came via a series of rolling mauls.
The Reds defence held firm in the opening minutes as former assistant coach Alex Rae tried unsuccessfully to marshal the driving maul across the try-line, and soon afterwards Jersey were on the front foot. Apakuki Ma'afu produced a powerful run and jack-hammer hand-off to carve an opening, with Kieran Hardy was on hand to take the pass and cross for his seventh try of the season.
The home side quickly switched to the flowing attacking game for which they are renowned, with former England scrum-half Lee Dickson linking well with Michael le Bourgeois, making a rare appearance in the number 10 shirt having most often featured at centre since leaving Jersey in 2013. Another ex-Red, Rich Lane, was involved in the build-up to the opening try, alongside debutant Rory Hutchinson, one of Northampton's promising young players making a dual-registration move to Saints' neighbours, and the league's top try-scorer Dean Adamson was on hand to finish.
The Reds regained the lead with two tries in four minutes, showing real potency with ball in hand. Hardy and Rory Bartle combined but the flanker was just short and then the ball was fed across the pitch. Jason Worrall went close and finally Josh Hodson steamed over. There was another chance in the same area, with Hodson smelling a second try, but this time it was the forwards who arrived to finish the job, Jake Armstrong going close and then Nick Selway following up to claim his 14th try in league and cup this season.
Ahead by 12 points and preparing to play up the Goldington Road slope in the second half, the visitors were hit by a last-play try that was made by Le Bourgeois, jinking through the Reds midfield and finding Adamson for his 15th Championship try.
The Blues were getting the lion's share of penalties awarded by referee Hamish Smales (estimated 13-5), and mostly used these opportunities to set up catch-and-drive lineouts. But a malfunctioning lineout and effective Jersey defence scuppered the chance of points, and in a way the Reds could be flattered when Elliot Clements-Hill opted instead for a shot at goal to reduce the margin to 17-19 with just over half an hour left.
The visitors stretched their lead after a stunning passage of play led to co-captain Scott van Breda's first try for the Reds after 52 minutes. The Jersey attack lasted three minutes 15 seconds and involved 23 phases of play, including a Brendan Cope kick-pass to Tom Pincus, a series of attacking thrusts and superb handling by almost every member of the team, most notably the tireless carrying of Selway and Max Argyle. At one stage a maul was formed in centre-field and eventually the Blues transgressed by straying offside. The Reds made the most of the resulting advantage and finally Worrall fed Van Breda for the score.
As Jersey's 10-point lead had been wiped out in the blink of an eye in the Boxing Day encounter, so the nine-point advantage was gone within three minutes. First Clements-Hill crossed, although significantly the full-back couldn't add an eminently kickable conversion, then scrum-half Jordan Burns - introduced after Dickson's first-half head injury - raced through and the hosts led for the first time (29-26).
There was enough time to fashion another score, and the Jersey players showed they also had the resolve and accuracy required. Pressing into opposition territory, Cope launched another precise kick-pass to Pincus, who caught the ball and then appeared to lose possession, but may just have got a toe to the ball to turn a knock-on into a grubber-kick. The ball was regained and spread across to the opposite flank where Van Breda fed Hodson for his second try, Cope adding the extras to complete a good night's work with his right boot.
Bedford were on the attack in the closing stages, but crucially they needed a try so couldn't take a kickable penalty. The Reds were camped under their own posts and at one stage Rae and Co looked to go over the top to the line, but they were repelled and after the Jersey pack won a crucial scrum penalty, the siege was lifted and the final whistle blew.
Bedford Blues (1-15)
Sean McCarthy, George Edgson, Ben Cooper, Jordan Onojaife, Will Carrick-Smith, Justin Blanchet, Alex Rae, Jarad Williams; Lee Dickson, Michael le Bourgeois (capt); Dean Adamson, Rory Hutchinson, Rich Lane, Howard Packman; Elliot Clements-Hill
Jordan Burns (for Dickson 32mins), Tom Lindsay (Edgson, 53), Josh Buggea (Blanchet 53), Camilo Parilli-Ocampo (McCarthy 59), Ed Taylor (Onojaife 70), Dan Lewis (Packman 73), Alex Penny (Cooper 73)
Jersey Reds (1-15)
Jake Woolmore (co-capt), Nick Selway, Jake Armstrong, Jerry Sexton, James Voss, Rory Bartle, Conor Joyce, Max Argyle; Kieran Hardy, Brendan Cope; Josh Hodson, Apakuki Ma'afu, Scott van Breda (co-capt), Tom Pincus, Jason Worrall.
Leeroy Atalifo (for Armstrong, 58 mins), George Eastwell (Hodson 72), Joel Dudley (Ma'afu 72), Roy Godfrey (Woolmore 73), Jack Macfarlane (Selway 76), Seb Nagle-Taylor (Bartle 76), Uili Kolo'ofa'i (Voss 79)
REFEREE: Hamish Smales; Assistants: Rob Warburton, Bill Burton
Half Time: 14-19
Tries: Adamson 14, 40, Clements-Hill 66, Burns 69
Conversions: Clements-Hill 14, 40, 69
Penalty: Clements-Hill 47
Tries: Hardy 11, Hodson 25, 71, Selway 29, van Breda 52
Conversions: Cope 11, 29, 52, 71
Report re-produced courtesy of Jersey Evening Post
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