An exciting match between old rivals featured a storming start from the Reds and a determined comeback from Cornish Pirates, who ended up the narrow victors on their home turf at the Mennaye Field.
The result was a hammer-blow to the Reds’ ambitions to be in the mix at the end of the Championship season, with fourth place now the almost inevitable final ranking for Harvey Biljon’s side; the Pirates remain very much in contention, with Doncaster Knights and Ealing Trailfinders their rivals for the title.
Playing at a lively tempo from the start, the Reds quickly tapped their first penalty of the match, with Brendan Owen racing forward and being supported by Scott Van Breda. When the ball was worked back to Tom Pittman the fly-half kicked over the Pirates’ defence and Ryan Olowofela raced forward to tackle the defender.
With the Pirates in disarray the ball was quickly worked wide and Owen slid through a grubber that bounced up nicely for Macauley Cook to collect it and stroll over with only 130 seconds on the clock.
Another good run by Owen, this time from a kick return, gave the visitors more momentum a few minutes later and the ball was fed wide via an unlikely ‘Serevi’ flick-pass between the legs of prop James Flynn.
The bouncing ball from Flynn was taken by Dan Barnes who found Olowofela for a searing break forward and then a pass inside to James Elliott, who then returned the ball back outside to Barnes, who took it well and crossed by the posts. A second conversion from ‘SVB’ left the Reds 14-points ahead after eight minutes.
With the Reds rampant, there could have been a third try when Owen fed Will Brown, who got very close to the line, but this time the Pirates held firm and they were soon able to get some field position at the other end and hooker Tom Channon, wearing number 16, crossed from the back of a maul.
The Reds enjoyed a further spell of pressure late in the half, with Matt Bolwell of Pirates binned for illegal play at the breakdown and a series of drives that went close, but could not get the ball over the line. With the last play of the half the Reds won a penalty and Van Breda slotted the kick to make it 7-17.
Although there was some rain in the first half, the weather was a lot kinder than for the majority of the Reds’ previous visits to the Mennaye, and the sun was back out by the time the second half started.
The Reds had a great chance when Olowofela and Brown fed Barnes, but the final pass to Van Breda went to ground with the line beckoning. There were also two lost lineout balls at the start of the second period which robbed the visitors of momentum.
Pirates capitalised with a second mauled try by Channon and the home crowd of just over 2,000 urged their side to complete the comeback.
The Pirates were in the ascendancy now, but the Jersey defence was solid, with the closest shave being when number 8 Tom Duncan was held up over the line. But eventually the pressure told and replacement scrum-half Tom Kessell got over in the corner, Arwel Robson extending the lead with his third successful conversion.
Both side had chances in the closing stages, with Pirates being initially awarded a fourth try through Robin Wedlake only for the officials to disallow the score as a result of handling in a scrum several phases earlier, with acting captain Van Breda displaying some authoritative yet tactful negotiating skills.
The Reds had a chance with an attacking lineout inside their opponents 22 after a deliberate knock-on - but no yellow card - against Wedlake as he went for an interception, but although Harry Doolan found his jumper, the Reds weren't able to form a maul; in spite of some promising late attacks, with replacements Guy Thompson and James Mitchell having an impact, the clock ran down and the home side’s win was confirmed.
The losing margin was typical of the league games between the sides over the past decade, with 13 of the 18 contests settled by seven points or fewer, and the winning side only once managing to secure a try bonus point.
While Pirates look forward to crucial matches away to their rivals (Doncaster on March 12th, and Ealing a fortnight later), the Reds will be focusing on the final home game of the league season, with Nottingham the visitors to Stade Santander International on Saturday March 12th (k-o 2.45pm).
Pictures: Brian Tempest
CORNISH PIRATES: Penny, O’Meara (Wedlake 3), Wyatt, De Battista (capt), Sirker (Tucker 68), Robson, Schwarz (Kessell 52); Andrew (Phillips 68), Channon, Petch (Rodman 71), Caulfield (Teague 68), Cutmore, Montgomery (Gibson 56), Bolwell (YC 33), Duncan. Unused: Blackmore
JERSEY REDS: Owen (Roberts 77); Olowofela, Van Breda, Barnes, Brown; Pittman, Elliott (Mitchell 64); Flynn (Godfrey 59), Clarke (Doolan 78), Longwell (Yendle 71), O’Connor (Humfrey 71), Cook, Argyle, Wynne (capt) (Grey 65), Lawrence (Thompson 61).
REFEREE: Anthony Woodthorpe. Assistants: Simon Adams, Ian Bibey
Half Time: 7-17
Tries: Channon 20, 48, Kessell 66
Conversions: Robson 20, 48, 66
Tries: Cook 3, Barnes 8
Conversions: Van Breda 3, 8
Penalty: Van Breda 40
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.