The Reds went down to just their second league defeat of the season on home turf as Ealing Trailfinders showed why they remain favourites to take the Championship title.
An impressive first-half display had left the Reds with a one-point advantage over their old rivals at half-time for the second time this season, but the visitors controlled the game thereafter, winning the key moments and ensuring they’d be taking four points back to London.
With a strong westerly wind blowing towards the Investec Terrace, Ealing had the conditions at their backs as Jersey kicked off. Unfortunately the ball went straight out and a penalty from the resulting scrum saw Craig Willis secure three points from the halfway line.
The visitors made the perfect start after the Jersey kick-off went straight out. A penalty was awarded from the resulting scrum and Craig Willis used the wind to slot an effortless kick from halfway.
Willis added another three points with another well-struck kick from 45 metres but then the Reds struck with their first meaningful attack, using a brace of penalty awards to establish field position and set up a rolling maul finished by Eoghan Clarke.
In spite of playing into the wind, as well as driving rain, the Reds were able to stay in the game, primarily as a result of teak-tough defence from all 15 players that made the visitors work hard for every metre gained.
At the midpoint of the half Willis stroked over a third penalty, although his fourth and final effort of the half was unsuccessful a few minutes later.
A four-point deficit at the break would have been no disgrace for the home side, but in the event they secured the lead from the final phase. The Trailfinders tried to run the ball out of their 22 but a pass was picked off by Jordan Holgate, who showed great anticipation and raced to the line.
The resumption brought one of the game’s pivotal moment as the Reds fielded the restart kick and James Mitchell sent a wind-assisted clearing kick upfield from inside his own 22. On another day the ball would have rolled into touch just to the left of the corner flag and given Mitchell’s forwards possession thanks to the 50:22 law, but in the event it bounced to the right just the other side of the corner flag and went dead.
With play coming all the way back for a scrum, the Ealing pack drew another penalty, enabling Willis to put his side back in front.
The visitors were assisted by a slight easing of conditions as the second half progressed, but also took control their own efforts, with the forwards flexing their muscles and half-backs Willis and Craig Hampson delivering a series of well-judged kicks.
After an even penalty count during the first period, the Reds were being forced into indiscipline and this allowed Ealing to gain the field position to claim a try from an attacking lineout, finished by hooker Jan-Henning Campher and converted from the touchline by Willis.
The Reds had isolated chances to score during a feisty second half that brought a long lecture to both captains from referee Adam Leal, who later reversed a penalty award when an Ealing player celebrated by patting an opponent on the head. The closest the home side came to scoring was when the ball was spun wide but a pass was intercepted and Ealing were able to clear the danger.
Willis added his fifth penalty in the closing stages, enabling his side to hold on in relative comfort until the final whistle, with the home side having nothing to show for a committed display.
Jersey Head Coach Rob Webber said: “We were very good into the wind before half-time, but in the second half we weren’t able to play in the right areas, didn’t win any of the 50:50 balls and ultimately the pressure told.”
After a shock home defeat to Bedford seven days earlier, Director of Rugby Ben Ward was delighted to see his Trailfinders side bounce back in wet and windy conditions.
“When Jersey scored right on half-time, I thought that might be crucial, but we were tactically excellent in the second half,” he said. “We put them on the back foot, and once we were ahead it was difficult for them to attack us because their half-backs weren’t sure whether to kick the ball or run it.”
The result saw Ealing move above the Reds into second place, three points behind leaders Doncaster Knights but with two games in hand. The top two meet at Castle Park next weekend, while third-placed Cornish Pirates host the Reds – who dropped to fourth – at the Mennaye Field.
Pictures: Rich Chapman
JERSEY REDS: Owen; Olowofela, Van Breda (Barnes 60), Holgate, Brown; Pittman, Mitchell (Elliott 60); Godfrey (Flynn 51), Clarke (Doolan 75), Longwell (Yendle 68), O’Connor (Everard 75), Cook, Argyle (Humfrey 64), Wynne (capt) (Grey 64), Lawrence.
EALING TRAILFINDERS: Johnston; Daniels, Bodilly, Howard, Kernohan; Willis, Hampson; Davis W (Whyte 64), Campher (Malton 72), Thiede, De Wee (Porter 72), Cannon, Northcote-Green (Linsell 44), Uzokwe, Smid. Unused: Davis G, Burns, Shingler, O’Connor.
REFEREE: Adam Leal. Assistants: Jonathan Healy, Simon Adams
Half Time: 10-9
Tries: Clarke 16, Holgate 40
Try: Campher 51
Conversion: Willis 51
Penalties: Willis 1, 12, 20, 41, 71
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