It was another case of familiar flaws outweighing promising signs as Jersey registered a second Championship defeat in their third outing of the new season.
The south of England hosted one of world rugby's biggest-ever shocks on Saturday evening, but further north in Yorkshire the script was rather less surprising, A close tussle between the Reds and their Doncaster Knight hosts featured several rolling maul tries, some flashing glimpses of running potential and several missed opportunities, and ultimately a 4:1 split of match points after another half-time Jersey lead ebbed away.
On a perfect late summer day for running rugby, the game began at a suitably frenetic pace with some adventurous play by the hosts to use the possession they dominated during the first five minutes. Jersey's defence held firm and the visitors soon showed their counter-attacking potential when a grubber kick from halfway eluded the Knights' defence and Fautua Otto would have scored had he not knocked on five metres from the try-line, unaware perhaps that he could have taken an extra half-second to gather the ball or kick it forward into the in-goal area.
Jersey knew the threat posed by Doncaster's Dougie Flockhart from the kicking tee - the right wing had landed all seven of his penalty goals this season to add to a 200-plus points haul last season. But pressure will often lead to penalties, and both Flockhart and Brendan Cope were given early opportunities, which they landed.
Several penalties won by Jersey were kicked to the corner in an attempt to secure points via the rolling maul. On the first two occasions this came to nothing, but the third time the Islanders' pack got everything right and Nick Haining claimed the score.
Cope added the conversion and a later penalty, while Flockhart kept the scoreboard ticking over for his side with two penalties; the second came after a rampaging 50-metre run by former Jersey flanker Latu Maka'afi, well tackled in the end by Cope, as the diminutive fly-half showing he had defensive ability to add to his kicking game. The Tongan had already scored three tries this season, and soon added another when the home side had the chance to show what their rolling maul could do and rumbled over.
Jersey came close to adding a second try when Haining broke through but a potential scoring pass to Joel Dudley was just a fraction late and intercepted. Soon afterwards, a series of lineout drives brought a yellow card for Knights' hooker Ben Hunter after a string of team offences, and then a try for Nacho Lancuba as the below-strength home pack had no answer to Jersey's maul power. There was a final opportunity for a similar try in the closing seconds of the half, but the opportunity was lost.
The Jersey back-line had shown the willingness to run the ball where possible, and within two minutes of the restart this resulted in a thrilling try. Full-back Rich Lane leapt to make a towering catch from a high ball near half-way and recovered his balance to slip the ball to Ross Adair. The Ulsterman scorched forward and with Doncaster running out of defenders, the next pass was always likely to be a scoring one, especially as it was fellow speedster Tom Howe who was on hand to take it and complete the job.
Cope added his fifth successful kick from as many attempts and Jersey had an 11-point cushion, but once again the home side wasted little time in recovering. Flockhart's penalty reduced the margin with four minutes, and soon afterwards he set up the platform for another mauled Maka'afi try.
Jersey clung to their lead, now just a single point, for 17 minutes, although the home forwards began to get the better at scrummage time and were slowly wresting control of the game from their opponents. Otto, who earlier was perhaps fortunate to escape a yellow card after being adjudged to have knocked on deliberately in seeking an interception, made an ambitious attempt to run the ball out of defence, but this ended in a loose pass and another penalty concession, and this time the home side span the ball wide and full-back Sam Edgerley scored in the corner.
There were still around 10 minutes for Jersey to retake the lead and come away with a win, but the visitors failed to cash in on limited opportunities. The best chance was through an attacking lineout, but replacement hooker Nick Selway's throw was deemed not straight and the chance was lost. Once they regained the possession, the home forwards were in no mood to surrender the ball until the referee advised that time was up.
Doncaster Knights (1-15): Richard List (Joe Sproston 58), Ben Hunter (YC 35), Colin Quigley (Will Griff John 66), Matt Challinor, Tyler Hotson (Jon Phelan 58), Latu Maka'afi (Jack Bergmanas 38-46, Alex Shaw 58), Michael Hills (c), Ollie Stedman; Sam Edgerley, Michael Heaney, Will Hurrell, Bevon Armitage, Andy Bulumakau (Tyson Lewis 61), Dougie Flockhart, Sam Edgerley.
Replacement not used: Josh Sharp.
Jersey (1-15): Ignacio Lancuba (Sean McCarthy 47), Martin Garcia-Veiga (Nick Selway 64), Danny Herriott (Cosma Garfagnoli 67), Nick Campbell, Pierce Phillips (Dave Markham HT), Alex Rae (c), James Freeman (Charlie Butterworth 70), Nick Haining; Joel Dudley, Brendan Cope, Ross Adair (Mark McCrea 72), Lewis Robling, Fautua Otto, Tom Howe, Rich Lane.
REFEREE: Tom Foley (RFU)
Sponsors' man-of-the-match: Latu Maka'afi
Half Time: 16-20
Tries: Maka'afi 30, 52, Edgerley 69
Conversions: Flockhart 30, 52
Penalties: Flockhart 12, 21, 24, 46
Tries: Haining 19, Lancuba 36, Howe 42
Conversions: Cope 19, 36, 42
Penalties: Cope 14, 26
/*Report by Tom Innes reproduced by kind permission of the Jersey Evening Post*/
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