The Reds finished narrowly beaten in their final game of 2018, succumbing to a late winning score against Ealing Trailfinders.
The Reds may have comfortably survived four yellow cards in beating Richmond in a recent Championship Cup encounter, but having three players banished to the sin-bin at Vallis Way was bound to take its toll against the division’s second-placed side.
Ealing, only separated from Greene King IPA Championship leaders London Irish on points difference after Saturdays result (Irish have a game in hand), took 70 minutes to get their noses in front of the visitors, but thereafter held onto their lead in relative comfort.
It was something of a mystery how the Reds kept their hosts off the scoreboard until the final play of the first half. Ealing dominated territory and possession, and their attacking opportunities included a brace of five-metre scrums and several attacking lineouts. The Reds survived thanks to some cussed defence, but at the cost of Mark Best being shown yellow for killing the ball. Trailfinders knew they should have scored, and frustration mounted when livewire flanker Jordy Reid raced over and touched down, only for the pass from Harry Sloan to be ruled forward.
By the time Best departed, his side were already ahead thanks to some opportunism from scrum-half Will Homer. Charlie Maddison’s lineout throw went over his target at the back, but the bounce was perfect for Homer to leap onto it, and no opponent was fast enough to react and lay a finger on him as he raced home from 40 metres.
The visitors were forced into an early change following a rib injury to Leeroy Atalifo. The Fijian tight-head soldiered on in some discomfort but eventually yielded to the pain, his departure providing an earlier-than-expected opportunity for Zi Alexis. The recent signing made an immediate impact in winning a scrum penalty for his side, but unfortunately he was also off the field by half-time, shown yellow for a no-arms tackle on opposite number Elliott Millar-Mills.
Desperate to break their duck, Ealing finally delivered the rolling maul potency for which they are renowned, with hooker Alun Walker marshalling the drive and his team-mates celebrating the score as if it had won a cup final in the dying moments. Peter Lydon converted with the last kick of the half.
The second period could barely have started any better for the Reds, with the home side messing up their receipt of the kick-off and Jersey awarded a penalty. This meant they could move into enemy territory, and from the next lineout Aaron Penberthy kicked a high ball to the far touchline. Leroy Van Dam was outnumbered by two opponents, but Lydon and Seb Stegmann hesitated and it was the blond-haired Kiwi who leapt to catch the ball and then raced home from 30 metres out, another opportunist score that was maximised by Penberthy’s conversion.
The Reds continued to survive with 14 men until Alexis returned, and could have scored again when Apakuki Ma’afu raced onto Homer’s grubber and was brought down just short, and again when Best chased a kick of his own that caused panic in the home defence.
Keeping Ealing pressed back in defence had worked well, but when they did get into Red territory, a mis-directed clearance from Best landed in James Cordy-Redden’s arms and it looked as if the winger would set up an immediate try. A superb cover tackle by Jack Stapley prevented this, but a penalty from the breakdown meant another scoring chance. Reid again crossed the line but this time couldn’t hold the ball, but a penalty advantage was being played, and Walker scored from the catch-and-drive, although Lydon couldn’t add the conversion.
Injuries were also increasing the pressure on the Reds, with Best and Stapley forced off, replaced by James Newey and Hilton Mudariki, the latter pressed into service on the wing. The visiting side were also conceding regular penalties: an estimated total of 15 in the match was around twice their opponents’ tally.
One sensed something had to give, and when skipper Roy Godfrey became the third Jersey player to be shown yellow, this time for a deliberate knock-on, the home side knew their moment had come. An attempt to maul to the line was frustrated, but when the ball was spun wide the Reds ran out of defenders and Lydon crossed with ease under the posts.
There was still time for the Reds to claim a winning score, but in truth there was very little fuel left in the tank after 14 straight weeks of league and cup rugby, and Ealing managed to control the ball and run down the clock in the closing stages to complete their eighth league win in 10 outings this season.
The Reds slipped one place in the league table after Bedford’s win at Richmond, but remained ahead of Nottingham, who drew 15-apiece with Coventry on Sunday and remain fifth, one point behind the Reds, which sets up round 11 nicely: Jersey Reds v Nottingham on Saturday January 12th.
Ealing Trailfinders (1-15)
Jordan Els, Alun Walker, Elliott Millar-Mills, Ben West, Harry Casson, Jordy Reid, Andrew Durutalo, Rayn Smid (capt); Jordan Burns, Laurence May; James Cordy-Redden, Harry Sloan, Pat Howard, Seb Stegmann; Peter Lydon.
Replacements: Rohan O’Regan (for Durutalo, 25 mins), Craig Willis (May h-t), Matt Cornish (Walker 55, YC 74), Alex Lundberg (Els 60), Walker (O’Regan 76). Not used: Will Davis, Jordan Onojaife, Ryan Foley
Jersey Reds (1-15)
Roy Godfrey (capt) (YC 68), Charlie Maddison, Leeroy Atalifo, Jerry Sexton, Dave McKern, Rory Bartle, Max Argyle, Janco Venter; Will Homer, Aaron Penberthy; Leroy Van Dam, Mark Best (YC 15), Apakuki Ma’afu, Jack Stapley; Auguy Slowik.
Replacements: Zi Alexis (for Atalifo, 29 mins, YC 38), James Newey (Best 55), Nick Selway (Maddison 58), Charlie Beckett (McKern 58), Hilton Mudariki (Stapley 58), Kyle Hatherell (Bartle 62), Harry Morley (Mudariki 71),
REFEREE: Anthony Woodthorpe. Assistants: Lionel Spooner, George Selwood
Half Time: 7-7
Tries: Walker 40, 54, Lydon 70
Conversions: Lydon 40, 70
Tries: Homer 12, Van Dam 42
Conversions: Penberthy 12, 42