The Reds did it again, unseating the league leaders thanks to a magnificent and courageous display, crowned with a stunning last-play winner from Auguy Slowik
With no time on the clock, the home side found some final reserves of energy; Brett Herron, an early replacement for Koch Marx, broke through and slipped the ball to Slowik for his second try of the game.
In ending the Exiles’ eight-match unbeaten run, the Reds moved up to third in the Greene King IPA Championship table, with a six-match winning run of their own – equalling the club’s record Championship streak from the second half of the 2016/17 season. They also maintained an incredible record of defeating the top side in their division; this stretched back to wins over Ealing and Rosslyn Park in 2012 in National 1, and more recently to Championship victories over Worcester Warriors (2015), Bristol (2018) and Cornish Pirates (last month), as well as London Irish on their previous visit to the Island in March 2017.
The opening exchanges were attritional, with half-chances for both teams but also a series of errors. If the first quarter was evenly-balanced, the second was a one-way tide of green towards the Jersey line. Pressure came from a series of scrums and forward drives, and eventually Jersey number 8 Janco Venter was yellow-carded for killing the ball at a ruck.
With the hosts down to 14, Irish seized the moment and scrum ball was worked to Stephen Myler, whose back-handed pass left wing Topsy Ojo with a straightforward diving finish in the corner. Myler added an excellent conversion from the touchline into a cross-field breeze.
The home side were under more pressure straight after half-time, losing possession from the restart and having to withstand another wave of Irish pressure. The ball was lost forward, but Jersey were still a man down and faced an anxious scrum on their line.
Although possession was secured from the set-piece, Will Homer found himself behind his try-line and threw caution to the wind. The Reds’ scrum-half looked right, then ran left, and after a quick-flash whipped pass from Herron, Aaron Penberthy gained ground towards half-way and found his team-mates lining up in support: Herron, then a long pass across to James Newey and finally Slowik to complete a memorable 100-metre try, a score from the end of the earth.
The sizeable contingent of Irish supporters, who contributed to a fantastic atmosphere at Stade Santander International, were soon celebrating again as their team crossed for a second try, skipper Josh McNally breaking through and finding back-row colleague Blair Cowan to finish under the posts.
A nine-point deficit looked ominous for the Reds, but when Leroy Van Dam raced around Luke McLean, and beyond Ojo, to finish in the Bowl Corner, a thrilling conclusion was in prospect.
With strong impact from the bench, notably some tireless charges by Roy Godfrey, Charlie Beckett and Nick Selway, the Reds were in the ascendant, but looked to be running out of time. Penberthy and Herron set up good positions with their touch-kicking, and one kick led, crucially, to a Red lineout after former Italy full-back McLean caught the ball but stepped into touch. Jersey’s maul was stopped, another penalty awarded, the Reds retained possession and a few phases later Slowik applied the finishing touch to a thrilling contest. The winning try came at the end of 16 phases of play lasting 141 seconds. There was no time to restart and Penberthy’s conversion was the final act.
Harvey Biljon raced to embrace his captain, former Exiles’ player Jerry Sexton, at the final whistle and afterwards the Reds’ head coach admitted he was close to tears.
“Jerry and I had spoken beforehand about how important this game was for him, and the team,” he said. “We scored some great tries, including one from behind our try-line, but there were also some big moments at the other end and some of our defence was exceptional.”
Exiles’ director of rugby Declan Kidney said Jersey’s win was well-deserved.
“They scored three tries to our two, and kept going to the end,” he said. “Both sides were really going at it, and the better side won today. We’ve got away with it in a few games, but today was Jersey’s day.”
To crown a great day, Jersey Reds Athletic won their game earlier in the Day, defeating Barnes 36-19 in their Zoo shield encounter.
JERSEY REDS: Slowik; Marx (Herron 14), Newey, Best, Van Dam; Penberthy, Homer (Waters 63); Morley (Godfrey 45), Maddison (Selway 55), Atalifo (Rodman 60), Sexton (c), McKern (Beckett 53), Argyle (Hatherell 75), Bartle, Venter (YC 31).
LONDON IRISH: McLean; Ojo (Tonks 61), Hearn, Campbell, Hassell-Collins; Myler, Meehan (Steele 68); Cilliers (Hobbs-Awoyemi 46), Porecki (Matu’u 52), Hoskins (Saulo 72), Maddison, Paulo (Schatz 68), McNally (c), Cowan (Gilsenan 68), Rogerson.
REFEREE: Luke Pearce. Assistants: Shane Lewis, Jamie Leahy
Half Time: 0-7
Man-of-the-match (as chosen by match sponsor Barclays): Brett Herron (Jersey Reds)
Tries: Slowik 44, 80, Van Dam 60
Conversion: Penberthy 80
Tries: Ojo 32, Cowan 52
Conversions: Myler 32, 52