Unbeaten Doncaster Knights ultimately proved too strong for the Reds, who competed on even terms throughout the first half but then faded after the break.
It meant a win for the Knights in what was nominally an away game for Steve Boden’s side after the game was switched to Castle Park.
The Reds were in the ascendancy in the opening minutes, with the first four penalties of the game going their way, including an opportunity for Brendan Cope to claim a straightforward three points from the tee.
But the Yorkshire side battled back into contention – scrum-half Gus Warr broke through and although he was well-tackled by Darren Atkins, the Knights had a penalty advantage and Sam Olver levelled the scores.
The Reds went back in front thanks to the quick thinking of debutant scrum-half Max Green, who took a quick tap for a penalty and raced 40 metres to the line (pictured top), with a last-ditch tackle by Jack Spittle coming too late, and Cope converting.
The Knights pushed hard to get back into it, and were initially denied by a fine steal from the other debutant in Jersey’s starting XV, Adam Nicol. But soon afterwards Doncaster turned down a shot at goal. John Kelly went close and then Matt Challinor forced his way over, and the scores were level again at 10-apiece after an easy conversion for Olver.
The Reds attacked once again, with a good run by Scott Van Breda setting up Darren Atkins, for a break down the flank. And shortly afterwards Jack Macfarlane rumbled over from the back of a maul only for the Reds to be penalised for an accidental offside as Macfarlane and the man in front of him, Dan Richardson, fleetingly separated.
Having thought they might have taken the lead, the Reds found themselves on the back foot. Olver released centre Connor Edwards – briefly on loan with the Reds last season – for a charge towards the line. Brendan Owen brought him down, but the ball was quickly worked back to Olver who flung a long pass across to Spittle to cross in the corner.
Behind by 10-15, the Reds had a chance to level things up at the very end of the half. Another maul was heading to the line and was brought down, prompting calls for a penalty try, but in fact it was a penalty and the resulting lineout was lost and the half-time whistle sounded.
The second half brought little but frustration for the Reds. An early penalty gave Olver the chance to go for goal, but he missed. Then the Knights span the ball and Kyle Evans had plenty of space and time to cross in the corner. Olver converted and it was 10-22.
In truth there were few opportunities for Jersey points until the dying stages when there remained a chance of a bonus point. The Reds conceded an estimated nine penalties during the second period and were also guilty of a number of handling errors, which allowed Doncaster to control the game, even when skipper Robin Hislop was sin-binned for a neckroll.
Although Olver missed another penalty which would have put his side out of sight, the Knights held on for an eventually comfortable victory, leaving the Yorkshire side with five wins from as many games going into the crunch encounter with Saracens at Castle Park next weekend.
For the Reds, who have just one win from four, there is the prospect of a tough trip to Ealing – also unbeaten after a 10-38 win away to Pirates – next weekend before the long-awaited first ‘proper’ home game of the season when Nottingham visit the Island on Saturday April 24th.
pictures: Simon Hall
Jersey Reds v Doncaster Kights– Greene King IPA Championship, Round 5/11, Castle Park, Saturday April 10th 2021, k-o 2.30pm
Jersey Reds (15-9, 1-8 * = debut)
Brendan Owen; Tom Williams, Scott Van Breda, Jack Roberts, Darren Atkins; Brendan Cope, Max Green *; Dan Richardson, Jack Macfarlane, Adam Nicol *, Zak Farrance, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, Lewis Wynne (capt), Max Argyle.
Replacements: George Edgson, Ollie Dawe *, Jack Higgins, Rory Bartle, Tim Grey, James Elliott, Josh Bainbridge, Apakuki Ma’afu
Billy McBryde; Kyle Evans, Charlie Foley, Connor Edwards; Jack Spittle; Sam Olver, Gus Warr; Robin Hislop (c) (YC 52), Ben Hunter, Joe Jones, Matt Challinor, Jerry Sexton, John Kelly, Sam Graham, Guido Volpi.
Replacements: Will Holling, Conrad Cade, Andy Foster, Will Britton, Conor Joyce, James Mitchell, James Kane, Jack Davies
Try: Green 18
Conversion: Cope 18
Penalty: Cope 5
Tries: Challinor 26, Spittle 37, Evans 47
Conversions: Olver 26, 47
Penalty: Olver 13
Referee: Hamish Smales. Assistants: Simon Park, Gregg Dawson