The Reds suffered a third defeat of the season to Ealing Trailfinders, who remain on course for a hat-trick of cup titles after an eventually comfortable win in the Championship Cup quarter-final at Vallis Way.
The home side struck early when a Craig Willis kick bounced cruelly for the Reds, but kindly for Peter Lydon, who touched down. A conversion and subsequent penalty by Willis made it 10-0 before the Reds had settled.
The remainder of the first half was more attritional, with the only other score being a close-range intercept by Alex Morgan for the Reds. There were further chances from both sides, notably from attacking lineouts, but these came to nothing.
An early yellow card after the resumption for Rodney Iona for a high tackle had a significant impact. Trailfinders scored twive in his absence: Harry Sloan in the corner after Nathan Fowles took a quickly-tapped penalty, and then Reon Joseph hacked on a loose ball near halfway after a pass from Reece Marshall went astray and chased at pace to claim the touch-down.
The visitors went back to 15 men after Iona’s sin-bin period ended, Aaron Penberthy replacing the Samoan at this point, but the wave of points continued with Fowles finding Rayn Smid to power over by the posts.
The Reds rallied in the closing stages with tries from Auguy Slowik – a 90-metre intercept – and Roy Godfrey from a close-range quickly-tapped penalty. But Lydon had the last word, crossing for his side’s fifth try in the final play.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon said: “I don’t think the scoreline was a fair reflection on the game. We gave ourselves opportunities but there were two or three big moments – a lapse of concentration and they score, then a yellow card and they scored two tries in that time, then a dropped ball and they score again. If you took those errors away then suddenly we are in a real game.
“You can see the power of Ealing and the quality of players they have, but we made them earn their scores.
“Reece Marshall [new loan signing] had two training sessions, so I thought he did pretty well – there were one or two moments at the set-piece, but we also saw his ability to contribute in open play.”
The Reds now focus on the resumption of their league campaign, with one of their toughest challenge of the season, with Newcastle Falcons visiting the Island. The Falcons have won all 20 of their games this season and are well clear at the top of the league, but the Reds will harbour hopes of repeating upset wins in recent seasons over the likes of London Irish, Worcester Warriors and Bristol.
A great afternoon is in store at Stade Santander International – kick-off is at 3pm, and there will also be a Q&A session with Harvey Biljon and Dean Richards on Friday from 5.30pm.
Referee: Hamish Smales. Assistants: Fergus Kirby & John Meredith