A hat-trick of penalty tries helped Jersey Reds extend their unbeaten start to the Championship season with a fourth win from four outings, but this was a real battle against a resilient Cornish Pirates side on a wet and windy night in the Channel Islands.
Pirates did the bulk of the defending in the first half, playing into the wind and struggling to get out of their own 22 for long periods. Some superb defensive spoiling though kept the hosts at bay until half-time was within reaching distance.
With Jersey fly-half Russell Bennett off after a blow to the head just before the first quarter ended, scrum half James Mitchell came on to fill in admirably at 10 and was pulling the strings for the home side. But it was a night for the forwards, not the backs, and when referee Harry Walbaum sent back-rower Seb Nagle-Taylor to the sin-bin for a maul infringement, Jersey’s pack took advantage with their scrum earning the opening penalty try. Marlen Walker was shown yellow for his part and suddenly Pirates were down to 13.
With the final play of the half, Reds looked to swing the ball wide to make use of the additional men. Pirates scrum half Ruaridh Dawson was alert to it, but his failed interception with one hand was knocked on and the referee issued yet another yellow before running to the posts for another penalty try.
Cornish Pirates started the second half brightly and got on the scoreboard through replacement prop Jack Andrew who crashed over from a maul. The deficit was further reduced soon after when wing Robin Wedlake burst through and the supporting Carwyn Penny touched down.
With Reds down to 14 men after the fourth sin-binning of the evening - Macauley Cook the man sent to the sidelines - the momentum was very much with the visitors, but the wind had one final card to play.
A huge kicked clearance from the Pirates’ own try line was blown the full length of the pitch, bouncing dead at the other end, resulting in a Jersey scrum back on five metres. A massive swing in territory in a blink of an eye. Sensing their moment, the Reds pack powered towards the line for a third penalty try, sealing a gritty win for Harvey Biljon’s men.
“Straight after half time there’s a couple of moments we can learn from as a group and I commend the Pirates who kept on throwing it at us,” said Biljon. “It was physical, the conditions put both teams under pressure and it’s difficult to play, especially if you consider the way we’ve been playing in the previous three games. The impressive bit was the way the players could adapt and find a different way to win.”
Report: Tim Pryor. Picture: Rich Chapman
JERSEY REDS: Owen; Woollett, McHenry, Holgate, Lewis; Bennett (Mitchell 18), Elliott (Barnes 71); Grahamslaw, Harris (Clarke 69), Longwell (Weatherby 69), O’Connor (Bain 56), Cook (YC 66), Dun (Argyle 56), Wynne (c), Lawrence. Not used: McGrath, Powell
CORNISH PIRATES: Cant; Sirker (Kessell 43), Parata (Smith 69), Elderkin, Wedlake; Robson, Dawson (YC 40) (Penny 50); Walker (YC 34) (Andrew 43, YC 73), Crane (Nelson 75), Beaton (Johnson 40), Fender (Williams 56), Britton, Everett, Stevens (c) (Gibson 66), Nagle-Taylor (YC 31).
REFEREE: Harry Walbaum. Assistants: Darryl Chapman, Dean Richards
Half Time: 14-0
Tries: Penalty try 34, 40, 73
Tries: Andrew 45, Penny 54
18 May 2023
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