Jersey suffered an agonising British & Irish Cup defeat when their Welsh opponents from the Dragons region went the length of the field to score a winning try at the death.
The Islanders had battled back from a seven-point half-time deficit, but were denied at the very end and are left trailing the Newport Gwent Dragons Premiership Select XV and Doncaster Knights in Pool 5 after two rounds of this season's B&I.
The visitors showed some good early power through runs by Rhys Owen and Uili Kolo'ofa'i, but Dragons scored first after breaking through the Jersey defence, scrum-half Luc Jones crossing and fly-half Angus O'Brien adding the extras.
The Reds were level within four minutes, counter-attacking effectively from a loose Welsh kick. Mark Cooke and Oli Evans ran the ball back with purpose, then Jack Moates took it on and found Mark McCrea with a scoring pass, the winger able to stroll over by the posts, Aaron Penberthy converting.
Jersey's try-scorer was soon off the field, yellow-carded for what referee Chris Ridley deemed a deliberate knock-on. The Dragons took advantage of his absence to score 10 points - O'Brien slotted a penalty and then hoisted an inch-perfect cross-kick which Adam Jones caught near the corner flag and touched down.
After another good charge by Tongan international Kolo'ofa'i, Jersey won a penalty which Penberthy slotted to reduce the deficit to 17-10. The hosts had a spell of extreme pressure in the closing minutes of the half but were held out by some excellent Jersey defence.
The first score of the second half looked likely to be important, and it was the visitors who claimed it within two minutes; skipper Pierce Phillips made a storming run through the Welsh defence and found Moates, who wrong-footed O'Brien and forced his way over. Penberthy's conversion levelled the scores, although O'Brien soon put the Dragons back in front with a penalty.
Another storming run by Phillips almost ended in a try for the giant lock - he was brought down just short, but a penalty offence allowed Penberthy a chance to level the scores once again (20-20). O'Brien once again countered with his third penalty.
Jersey had failed to exercise much forward dominance in the first hour but really cranked up the pressure in the final quarter. A scrum penalty near half-way allowed Penberthy the chance to gain field position, and the Jersey maul powered forward into the Dragons 22. A series of offences saw the referee award a penalty, but the Reds' pack used the advantage to press forward towards the line and eventually a penalty try was awarded, with home flanker James Benjamin yellow-carded, and Jersey led 23-27 after another Penberthy conversion.
Jersey had chances to increase their lead, but Penberthy was unable to find touch with another penalty, and then when Jersey did get the maul going again it was deemed to have been brought down by a red-shirted player.
The Dragons announced with increasing desperation and seemed to have earned a final chance with a penalty just inside their own half when Jack Moates was penalised for an over-enthusiastic clear-out. However the penalty was reversed for a dangerous lift on Moates.
Although it appeared time may be up, the decision was made to go for goal. Penberthy's kick went just wide and the Dragons attacked from their own goal-line. A penalty awarded near the Jersey 22 was tapped quickly and ran the ball back at pace. Welsh-capped winger Aled Brew charged down the right and as he was about to be forced into touch around 10 metres from the try-line he hurled the ball over his left shoulder. Two Jersey players nearly claimed it but in fact it was claimed by replacement Arwel Robson who finished from close range to seal the smash-and-grab win.
The defeat, following an exciting game screened live by Welsh broadcaster S4C, was cruel on a Jersey side featuring a number of players who had seen little 1st XV action thus far this season and competed gamely throughout against a side who started their B&I campaign last weekend with a 10-34 win against Connacht Eagles.
Jersey face a short turn-around this week before heading off on Friday for another away fixture - the return to Greene King IPA Championship action against Rotherham Titans at Clifton Lane on Saturday (k-o 2pm). The next home match is the Championship clash with Ealing at St Peter on Friday December 4th (k-o 7.45pm).
DRAGONS: Geraint Rhys Jones (Dragons), Aled Brew (Dragons), Barney Nightingale (Newport RFC/ Dragons Academy), Adam Jones (Ebbw Vale), Aaron Warren (Dragons), Angus O’Brien (Crosskeys/ Dragons), Luc Jones (Dragons); Luke Garrett (Crosskeys/ Dragons), Hugh Gustafson (capt) (Dragons), Leon Brown (Crosskeys/ Dragons Academy), Scott Andrews (Crosskeys/ Dragons), Ashley Sweet (Ebbw Vale), Scott Matthews (Crosskeys), James Benjamin (Dragons) (YC 72), Harri Keddie (Ebbw Vale/ Dragons).
Replacements: Thomas Rhys Thomas (Dragons), Richard Cornock (Crosskeys), Alex Jeffries (Newport RFC/ Dragons), Adam Brown (Newport RFC), Josh Skinner (Crosskeys/ Dragons Academy), Owen Davies (Newport RFC/ Dragons), Arwel Robson (Newport RFC/ Dragons Academy).
JERSEY: Rich Lane, Mark McCrea (YC 24), Rhys Owen, Mark Cooke (Jack Burroughs H-T), Oli Evans (Joel Dudley 77), Aaron Penberthy, Jack Moates; Sean McCarthy (Nacho Lancuba 66), Nick Selway (Russell Anderson 50), Oli Tomaszczyk (Ben Featherstone 55), Pierce Phillips (capt), Will Rowlands, James Freeman (Tommy Spinks 64), Gary Graham, Uili Kolo'ofa'i (Alex Rae 70).
Referee: Chris Ridley (RFU)
Tries: Jones L 12, Jones A 29, Robson 80
Conversions: O'Brien 12, 29, 80
Penalties: O'Brien 25, 46, 56
Tries: McCrea 16, Moates 42, Penalty Try 72
Conversions: Penberthy 16, 42, 72
Penalties: Penberthy 33, 49
31 Mar 2023
Five games remain to define Championship season