The Reds recovered from a terrible start to claim their opening Greene King IPA Championship win of the new season.
Reeling from a torrential downpour that started as the players entered the arena and two tries by a lively Hartpury side, the visiting Jersey squad showed character and composure to force their way back into the game.
Young Islander Harry Cochrane was involved in both his team's tries after fielding high kicks near half-way. After only three minutes the ball was spread across the field for Nick Carpenter to touch down, and within quarter of an hour flanker Mat Gilbert touched down after a pin-point grubber-kick by impressive scrum-half Harry Randall.
The Reds had struggled to impose themselves, and a stream of penalties brought a team warning from referee John Meredith, but gradually the visitors began to get a foothold in the game. This stemmed from a solid defensive effort that meant the hosts went almost an hour of play without further addition to the scoreboard, and some purposeful attacks via the likes of Jared Saunders, Dave McKern and Rory Pitman. But there were some handling errors and a lack of execution that meant the Reds were still stuck on nil points as they headed to the dressing rooms at half-time.
After the break, conditions had calmed; Jersey were a growing force and applied mounting pressure on their opponents. Brendan Cope was all set to open the scoring after following up a charge-down, but he failed to gather the ball cleanly with the try-line at his mercy.
The more pessimistic elements of the away support may have despaired that it wasn't going to happen for their side, but the players remained focused, and when the points eventually came, the flow was almost as fast as the earlier downpour. Kieran Hardy finished off a high-class attacking move, sparked by Scott van Breda's entry into the line and made possible by the deft skill of Mark Best in back-handing the ball inside to the Welsh scrum-half. Tom Pincus then grabbed a second interception try in as many away games - the Aussie wing had less ground to cover - around 35 metres - than at The Stoop last month, but did have to shrug off an attempted tackle before reaching the line.
With Cope putting the earlier knock-on out of his mind and landing both conversions and a penalty, the Reds had registered 17 points in seven minutes, and were now clearly in the ascendancy, although they continued to incur the referee's wrath and eventually conceded 15 penalties to nine by their opponents.
When Cope landed a second penalty with six minutes to play - the fly-half's 80% success rate on the day was a key factor with his counterparts missing three times from five attempts - it looked as if Jersey may have overcome Hartpury's efforts for good. But a minute later Randall inspired an attack from inside his own half eventually finished by Caven in the corner.
For most of the final minutes the Reds defence suffocated Hartpury in their own half. There was one chance to gain territory via a penalty, but replacement James Williams missed touch. The visitors hoped for a repeat of the first half, when the referee ended play with still 90 seconds showing on the scoreboard clock, but second time around there were around four minutes of further play after the clock had reached zero. Eventually the prospect of further points was snuffed out and Hartpury elected to hold what they had - a point made forcibly from the sideline by Head Coach Mark Cornwell - and kick the ball off to retain a losing bonus point.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon was delighted to see his players work their way back into the match to take victory.
"It was tough at the start - we'd warmed up in dry conditions and then came out in torrential rain and we were finding it difficult, although I'd also give Hartpury credit for the way they started and made it hard for us," he said. "We started to put things right in the second quarter, but missed a couple of opportunities, and then after half-time our discipline was far better - we had some really good defensive sets, with players showing real character to get to their feet and make another tackle or contest another breakdown, and we scored two good tries."
The Reds will be looking to build on this opening league win on home turf when Cornish Pirates come calling to Stade Santander International this Friday. Advance tickets are available via Eventbrite - LINK. Hartpury travel to Rotherham the following day, with both sides seeking to register their first victory of 2017/18.
Hartpury RFC (1-15):
Dan Murphy (replaced by Mike Flook 74 mins), Will Tanner (Luke Stratford 70), Rupert Harden (Tom Heard 53), Alex Craig (Darrell Dyer 51-58), BJ Edwards (Iain Grieve 68), Rob Langley, Mat Gilbert? (Dyer 70), Rhys Oakley (capt); Harry Randall, Jacob Perry (James Williams 50); Harry Cochrane, Luke Eves, Nick Carpenter (George Boulton 74), Elias Caven; Mike Wilcox.
Jersey Reds (1-15):
Jake Woolmore (replaced by Roy Godfrey 67 mins), Jared Saunders, Leeroy Atalifo (Jake Armstrong 50), Dave McKern (Rory Bartle 59), Jerry Sexton, Matt Rogerson, Conor Joyce, Rory Pitman (Max Argyle 49); Kieran Hardy (Joel Dudley 72), Brendan Cope; Jason Worrall, Apakuki Ma'afu, Mark Best (Ellis Abrahams 75), Tom Pincus; Scott van Breda (capt). Unused replacement: Nick Selway
REFEREE: John Meredith; Assistants: Bill Burton, Michael Patz
Half Time: 12-0
Tries: Carpenter 3, Gilbert 18, Caven 76
Conversions: Perry 3, Williams 76
Tries: Hardy 52, Pincus 58
Conversions: Cope 52, 58
Penalties: Cope 56, 74
23 Mar 2023
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