Played on a cold afternoon, but under clear, sunny skies, it was Jersey Reds who secured the all important bonus point win to top Pool 1, and in doing so earn the right to stage a home quarter-final in this year’s B&I cup.
The Reds were first to score after 4 minutes when Uili Kolo’ofa’i picked up from the back of a ruck following a line-out midway in the Ulster half, and stormed down the wing unopposed to touch down in the airport corner. Callum Sheedy having his first start for the Reds, and his first home appearance was unable to add the extras from wide, but the start was about as good as anyone could have wished for.
Ulster ‘A’ were quick to respond as they looked to move the ball through the hands. Whilst holding on to possession, they were struggling to make yards as the home defence held firm, but then won a penalty which was kicked deep into the scoreboard corner. Thrown to the back of the line out, they set up the drive, but again the Reds’ pack held firm, only for the visitors to recycle the ball with pick and go moves, and it was centre Mark Best who finally forced his way over the whitewash. Johnny McPhillips converted to put Ulster into the lead.
Both sides played the ball around, but whenever there was a set-piece, it was the homeside who showed dominance, exerting pressure, and ultimately winning numerous penalties throughout the afternoon.
The game ebbed and flowed, both in terms of territory and possession, and both teams had opportunities as they used penalties to kick for position to set up lineouts, but it was to be another twenty minutes before there was another score. That came for Jersey when Callum Sheedy punted a long penalty into the airport corner. Ulster infringed at the first lineout, and from the resulting second the Reds set up the drive and James Doyle claimed the try.
Just as it looked as though Jersey were starting to take control, and with Ulster down to 14 men, the Irish men seized an opportunity as Jack Cuthbert was caught on his own when attacking down the left. David Busby was quickest to react, gatherered the ball on his 22 and then galloped the length of the pitch to score under the posts for a converted try, and a 10-14 half time lead.
Following the turn-around Ulster extended their lead with their third try. A penalty was kicked into the Bowl corner, and whilst they couldn’t break the stubborn Jersey defence with the first drive, they again managed to force their way over following a series of ‘pick and gos’, and again McPhillips converted.
Trailing by 11 points, Jersey had to dig deep, and this they did. Winning penalties at the scrum and then kicking to the corners for position was the theme of the afternoon, and this set up the 3rd Jersey try. Ulster had repelled the initial ‘catch and drive’ move on one side of the pitch, but the Reds moved it quickly through the hands to the opposite wing where Ross Adair had space to dive over.
Coach Harvey Biljon used his replacements well, bringing on fresh legs and maintaining the advantage up front, and it was from another ‘catch and drive’ that Argyle was to get his 2nd score in successive matches and Jersey’s 4th try of the afternoon, but with Sheedy unable to add the extras, still the homeside trailed 20-21.
Just after the hour Joel Dudley and Sam Katz entered the fray, and 3 minutes later Katz converted a penalty to put the hosts in front, followed by a second penalty conversion five minutes after that, and all of a sudden there was some breathing space.
But still the Ulster men came back, and duly got themselves into dangerous positions, only for the Reds’ defence to again hold out. The final telling moment was when Ulster had a lineout on our 22 with less than 5 minutes to go; the throw wasn’t straight, Jersey opted for the scrum, and the rest is history.
A delighted Biljon after the game said, “I’m really pleased how the boys stuck to task when under pressure. Phillips again showed us what we have been missing with his leadership and control in set plays. It’s a good day for the Reds”.
Jersey return to action in the Championship next weekend away to Nottingham.
Jersey Reds (1-15):
Sean McCarthy, Jack Macfarlane, Simon Kerrod, Uili Kolo’ofa’i, Pierce Phillips (capt), James Freeman, James Doyle, Nick Haining; Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Ross Adair, Kuki Ma’afu (YC 42), Jordan Davies, George Watkins, Jack Cuthbert.
Replacements (all used):
Joe Buckle, Jake Woolmore, Jake Armstrong, Dave McKern, Max Argyle, Joel Dudley, Sam Katz.
Ulster ‘A’ (1-15):
Eric O’Sullivan, Zack McCall, Peter Cooper, Alan O’Connor (capt), John Donnan, Stephen Mulholland, Conor Joyce (YC 79), Lorcan Dow, Jonny Stewart, Johnny McPhillips, Jacob Stockdale, Mark Best, Rory Butler, David Busby, Jack Owens.
Replacements (* = unused):
Jonny Murphy*, Chris Cundell (YC 35), Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney*, Johny Creighton*, Andrew Magrath*, Callum Patterson*.
Referee: Craig Evans (WRU); Assistants: Lionel Spooner (RFU) & Bill Burton (RFU)
Half Time: 10-14
Man-of-the-match: Pierce Phillips
Tries: Kolo’ofa’i 5, Doyle 33, Adair 51, Argyle 61
Penalties: Katz 68, 73
Tries: Best 10, Busby 39, Joyce 43
Conversions: McPhillips 10, 39, 43