Jersey produced a competitive performance in their first-ever match against Pro 12 opposition, scoring five of the 11 tries on an entertaining summer afternoon’s rugby.
Ultimately the all-round class of the visitors from West Wales was enough to win the pre-season challenge match, sponsored by CPA Global, although the Islanders could have narrowed the margin through greater place-kicking accuracy.
“The match was a really useful test for us against quality opposition – a huge step-up from our first match last week,” said Jersey Head Coach Harvey Biljon. “Having said that, my immediate thought is to be disappointed because we left 11 points out there through missed kicks [four conversions and a penalty] and had other chances where we failed to apply pressure due to our own mistakes.
“We need to learn from the speed of thought that Scarlets showed – this is down to concentration and using any ‘down-time’ in the game to organise rather than just resting. That will come, and I can’t fault the application of my players today.”
Towards the end of a scoreless first quarter, Jersey scored the first try after a lineout steal saw the ball fed wide by Aaron Penberthy to Fautua Otto, who fed Tom Howe for the score.
Scarlets replied thanks to the silky skills of veteran centre Regan King, an All Black international earlier in his career. King glided through the Jersey defence and popped a sublime inside pass to allow the more industrial running skills of lock Tom Price to finish the job with a 20-metre canter to the line.
There was little to choose between the sides until the closing five minutes of the first half. Jersey’s scrum had been solid, and the hosts secured the ball from a scrum near half-way, only to be penalised. Scarlets attacked with devastating effect from the resultant free kick, first of all establishing field position for a rolling maul try, finished off by flanker James Davies, and then grabbing a third try with King and Tom Williams setting up scrum-half Aled Davies.
Ioan Nicholas became – at 17 years 134 days – the second youngest player to represent the Scarlets, and the centre scored his team’s final try from a Dan Jones cross-kick after earlier efforts from fellow replacements Will Boyde and Rhodri Williams.
There were flashes of attacking threat from the Jersey back-line, notably Lewis Robling, Jack Burroughs and Rich Lane, but Jersey’s forward power was the hosts’ most potent weapon and sparked tries from James Freeman and Dave Markham. However the Nicholas try left the score at 15-40 with 13 minutes to play and a potentially large margin of defeat was looming.
To their credit Jersey rallied in the closing stages; Nick Selway crowned another solid shift at hooker with a try from close range, and then the Islanders’ forwards were able to dominate a series of scrums on the Scarlets’ line, which culminated in a penalty try in the last action of the afternoon.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to put our training work into practice,” said Scarlets’ Head Coach Wayne Pivac. “We hadn’t done a lot of work so far on the driven line-out, so that will be a focus, but overall the trip has gone really well and we’ll take a lot out of today’s match as we build towards our match with the Dragons next week, and the Pro 12 season when it starts in September.”
Jersey will play their final pre-season match next Saturday. Kick-off is at 4.30pm and the game will be preceded by two other matches: Jersey Ladies play Blackheath at 12noon, and then Jersey Athletic will tackle Blackheath Heathens in a Zoo Sports Shield match at 1.30pm.
JERSEY: Rich Lane, Tom Howe, Fautua Otto, Lewis Robling, Mark McCrea, Aaron Penberthy, Jack Moates; Sam Lockwood, Nick Selway, Ben Featherstone, Pierce Phillips, Nick Campbell, Alex Rae (capt), James Freeman, Nick Haining.
Replacements (all used): Nacho Lancuba, Sean McCarthy, Danny Herriott, Dave Markham, Tommy Spinks, Charlie Butterworth, Joel Dudley, Mark Cooke, Rhys Owen, Jack Burroughs
SCARLETS: 15 Steff Evans, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Regan King, 12 Gareth Owen, 11 Hadleigh Parkes (capt), 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Aled Davies; 1 Dylan Evans, 2 Kirby Myhill, 3 Will Taylor, 4 George Earle, 5 Tom Price, 6 Tom Phillips, 7 James Davies, 8 Morgan Allen.
Replacements (used): Ryan Elias, Ben Leung, Jack Payne, Jack Jones, Rhodri Williams, Dan Jones, Ioan Nicholas, Will Boyde, Matthew Owen, Steven Shingler, Rob McCusker. Replacement (unused): Lewis Rawlins
REFEREE: Tom Foley (RFU)
Men-of-the-match as chosen by match sponsor CPA Global: Regan King (Scarlets); Nick Selway (Jersey)
Half Time: 5-19
Tries: Howe 19, Freeman 55, Markham 65, Selway 70, Penalty try 83
Conversion: Robling 83
Tries: Price 28, Davies J 32, Davies A 37, Boyde 44, Williams R 58, Nicholas 67
Conversions: Thomas 28, 37, Jones D 44, 58, 67