The Reds claimed a sixth successive win, but not before they had survived a second half decline as Doncaster Knights battled back into the game and were unlucky not to draw it at the death.
Fly-half Sam Olver had a last-kick conversion to give the visitors a share of the spoils, but after an earlier kick had been blown across the posts, he pulled the ball to the left of the posts and the final whistle went.
Well-rested after flying to Jersey on Thursday and reaching their hotel just before 6pm, the Knights started strongly and enjoyed some early territory and possession, but without being able to register points.
Having demonstrated their defensive mettle, the Reds then worked their way upfield, and into the game. Penalty concessions by their opponents provided the chance to show their renowned maul strength, and although one surge was repelled, the next attacking chance, set up by an excellent Russell Bennett touch-finder, was finished by TJ Harris. Bennett added an excellent conversion… which was to prove important.
The Knights had the next scoring opportunity, but fly-half Sam Olver couldn’t take it after opting for the posts and sending his kick well to the left of the uprights, and for the rest of the half the visitors were up against it.
After another spell of pressure, with the forwards in the thick of the action, the home side struck again; Scott Van Breda switched from the left to right, and soon afterwards James Mitchell fed Bennett who sent the South African powering to the line. Bennett’s conversion was a more straightforward affair, albeit there was no such thing as an easy kick in the conditions: 14-0.
Wanting to make the most of their ascendancy and score again before the break, the Reds pressed forward again. The pack made the hard yards up the right and then the ball was worked across by Mitchell, Jordan Holgate and Bennett to Scott Van Breda. The South African’s diagonal line was enough to create uncertainty in the visiting defence, and as both opponents zeroed in on him, ‘SVB’ delayed fractionally and slipped a perfectly-timed pass to the unmarked Will Brown to slide over in the corner. Bennett’s conversion attempt, which was the last kick of the half, bounced back off the left-hand upright.
Both sides knew the importance of scoring first after the break, with the visitors realising that another Red score would be likely to signal game over. The Knights attacked right from the start, with good interplay between Joe Margetts and Harry Davey, and soon afterwards had a penalty and chance to use an attacking maul. The forwards rumbled forward, and when some of the backs rushed to help it was Sam Olver who eventually claimed the try, and converted.
The perfect start to the second period didn’t last long, with Margetts yellow-carded for dangerous use of the shoulder in a tackle. There were chances for the home side to restore their advantage from both a five-metre scrum and attacking lineout, but neither came to anything, with the lost lineout ball – after an almost perfect set-piece in the first half – becoming a feature of the second 40.
Tempers then spilled over and the result was another card for Donny, this time number 8 John Kelly ordered off for his part in the fracas, leaving his side with just 13 men for the next phase of play until Margetts was permitted to return.
The Reds still weren’t able to take their chances, and were aggrieved when one maul was stopped on its way forward, with claims ball-carrier TJ Harris had been brought down illegally.
Refusing to give up, the Knights pushed forward and were exerting more pressure on their opponents, forcing several penalties which eventually led to a yellow card for replacement prop Adam Nicol just 10 minutes after entering the fray.
A feeling that it might not be Doncaster’s night grew when they lost their next attacking lineout, and more so when replacement prop Kai Owen spilled a long pass in the corner with the try-line begging.
But the visitors still kept coming and made the most of another lineout steal, with Olver and Connor Edwards putting Davey in for a try. Olver’s conversion was a tricky one from wide on the left and the ball blew across the posts and wide.
The restart kick going out on the full was not the card the Reds had hoped to play when the game resumed, and this gave the Knights the chance to make ground, with replacements Jared Cardew and Robbie Smith bursting forward and only a desperate tackle by Ben Woollett preventing the try. But it was a temporary reprieve, and after a series of drives prop Mak Wilson ploughed over.
The final act was Olver’s attempt to tie the game from 10 or 15 metres to the left of the posts. Perhaps mindful of his previous effort, he over-adjusted and the ball went well to the left of the target, with the fly-half having to make do with consolation hugs from team-mates and opponents alike as the final whistle blew.
The result meant the Reds’ winning start to the season was maintained and took them to the top of the table pending Ealing’s game at London Scottish on Saturday afternoon. It also snapped a four-game losing run in league encounters against the Knights dating back to October 2019. The Reds’ next league action is away to Hartpury University on Saturday.
Picture by Rich Chapman
JERSEY REDS: Van Breda; Woollett, McHenry (Barnes 68), Holgate, Brown (Hutler 62); Bennett, Mitchell (Elliott 61); Grahamslaw (McGrath 71), Harris (Clarke 62), Longwell (Nicol 60, YC 71), O’Connor (Bain 60), Cook, Dun, Wynne (c), Lawrence (Argyle 71)
DONCASTER KNIGHTS: Davey; Simpson, Margetts (YC 44, Smith R 76), Edwards, Holden; Olver, Dolly (Green 76); Carlile (Owen 65), Edgson (Holling 65), Armstrong (Wilson 76), Ehizode (Mintern 61), Murphy, Smith T (Cardew 76), Sigren (Daly 65), Kelly (YC 53).
REFEREE: George Selwood. Assistants: Adam Leal, James Clarke
Half Time: 19-0
Tries: Harris 15, Van Breda 25, Brown 40
Conversions: Bennett 15, 25
Tries: Olver 42, Davey 76, Wilson 81
Conversion: Olver 42
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