Seeking to achieve three consecutive league wins at the start of the season for the first time in their decade at Championship level, the Reds fell short in the face of a determined effort from Doncaster Knights.
The Yorkshire side started and finished strongly, taking advantage of some indiscipline from the Reds which eventually resulted in a total of 17 penalty concessions across the game.
Fly-half Sam Olver slotted the first of his five successful penalty shots after just three minutes, and then the Knights struck thanks to two players who briefly spent time in Jersey.
Alex Dolly, who once sat on the bench for the Reds at Castle Park, although he was never called on for a game, crossed for the first, taking Kyle Evans’ pass after a move that began in the Knights’ half. And then an attack straight from the restart saw centre Connor Edwards, briefly a Red while on loan from the Dragons, add a second try.
The Reds were 15-0 down and stunned, but worked their way back into the game with two tries from the forwards. Guy Thompson broke from a maul to crash over and then Macauley Cook fed Eoghan Clarke.
Although James Mitchell added four points from his two conversion attempts, Olver added two more penalties to make it 21-14 at the break.
14 minutes after the resumption, the scores were level. Good approach work from Harry Simmons, Dan Barnes and Brendan Owen created an opportunity for Ryan Olowofela – the winger still had plenty to do, but was able to outwit the defence to cross.
The momentum was with the visitors, but the penalty count continued to rack up. With around 12 minutes left a penalty out of Olver’s range became kickable when the Reds were penalised 10 metres for back-chat. On this occasion the Knights’ kicker hit the post, but two minutes later he made no mistake from close range to restore his side’s lead.
The Reds had not given up and soon earned a penalty at the other end. There was a possibility of going for a fourth, winning try and securing a five-point win, but instead the decision was taken to go for goal. Replacement Tom Pittman had come on for his Reds’ debut just a few minutes earlier, but nervelessly slotted the kick to make it 24-all.
Olver’s fifth penalty came with just two minutes to go following a high tackle, and this time there was no way back for the Reds, who will go again when they entertain Ampthill at Stade Santander International on Saturday October 23rd (k-o 2.30pm).
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon told The Rugby Paper: “If you were a neutral coming to watch the Championship, it would have been a hell of a game. I’ve been delighted with the efforts of the team all season.
“Some of the decisions against us we didn’t understand, but to get back from 18-7 down to 24-all showed the grit we have, and then we had one or two chances to win.”
The Reds did have two wins from elsewhere to celebrate, with Jersey Reds Athletic winning 36-22 at home to Chinnor and Jersey Reds Women triumphing 7-51 away to Seaford.
Picture courtesy Simon Hall
Doncaster Knights: Harry Davey; Kyle Evans, Fraser Strachan, Connor Edwards, Jack Spittle; Sam Olver, Alex Dolly; Conrad Cade, George Edgson, Gareth Denman, Danny Drake, Josh Peters, Jack Davies, Sam Graham (capt), Guido Volpi.
Replacements: Peter Roberts, Will Vaughan, Henry Paul, Ronan McCusker, Sam Hudson, Joe Green, Mark Best, Maliq Holden
Jersey Reds: Harry Simmons (Tom Pittman 68); Ryan Olowofela, Jack Roberts (Jordan Holgate 76), Dan Barnes, Will Brown; Brendan Owen, James Mitchell (James Elliott 68); James Flynn, Eoghan Clarke (TJ Harris 61), Steven Longwell, Sean O’Connor (Zak Farrance 61), Macauley Cook, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (capt) (Tim Grey 70), Guy Thompson.
Unused replacements: Huw Owen, Luke Yendle
Referee: Andrew Jackson. Assistants: Simon Park, Gregg Dawson
Tries: Dolly 14, Edwards 16
Conversion: Olver 14
Penalties: Olver 4, 30, 39, 70, 78
Tries: Thompson 26, Clarke 36, Olowofela 54
Conversions: Mitchell 26, 36, 54
Penalty: Pittman 75