Sam Katz's 79th-minute penalty sealed victory for the Reds in a game they had to win twice after a stunning second-half comeback by visitors Cornish Pirates
Replacement full-back and kicker Katz held his nerve after an eight-minute break in play while his colleague Brendan Cope was treated for a serious injury, then stroked the ball home to a loud reception from the St Peter crowd. It was another narrow league win for the Reds over the Pirates at St Peter, with the two-point margin from the last three encounters stretched to three this time.
Lewis Robling, a late call-up to the Jersey starting XV after an injury to Regan King in the warm-up, made an early break and put Ross Adair in for the game's first try after eight minutes. The Reds kept up the pressure, with skipper James Freeman eventually crashing over.
Although the home side had the better of the game up to the break, the only further scores were a penalty exchange by fly-half Cope and his Pirates counterpart Will Cargill. This maintained the 14-point Jersey lead, which was stretched early in the second half when more pressure culminated in a try for the ever-conspicuous Nick Haining.
There looked to be only one winner at 24-3, but the home club were stunned by three tries in six minutes. It started with a mauled try finished by Tyler Gendall; two minutes later Dan Lee raced through and fed Sam Simmonds; and then Kyle Moyle snatched an interception and raced 40 metres to the line. Cargill added all three conversions, the last two via the upright, and the scores were level.
Jersey regrouped and pressed into Pirates' territory. Cope missed one long-range penalty effort before a high tackle gave Katz his shot.
"Fair play to Sam, he had nerves of steel when he needed them," said a relieved and elated Reds head coach Harvey Biljon. "We had played a hell of a half of rugby, as good as I've seen, and without being disrespectful to Pirates I'm not sure how we let them back into it. But when it mattered we were able to regain some control, get a shot at winning the game, and then take the shot.
Biljon paid tribute to the effort of his squad in coping with the loss of four backs - including King - from a squad whose injury problems seemed to have eased slightly over the past week.
"We have a free week coming up, but the injury list has lengthened again, especially in the backs, and it's making it a real challenge for us as a squad," he added.
Pirates coach Alan Paver said: "There wasn't much to say at half-time, we were getting beaten up; all we said to the boys was they had a choice to capitulate, or do something about it.
"Fair play, the players responded in the second half. We had some good fortune, and I think Jersey deserved the win, but at least we made them work."
The Reds moved up two places in the Greene King IPA Championship table to eighth, part of a congested area of the table that includes a margin of just 10 points between third-placed Ealing Trailfinders and Bedford in 11th.
The match began after a minute's applause in tribute to JRFC stalwart Barrie Stead, who died on October 22nd. The players and the crowd were unanimous - "this one was for you Barrie."
JERSEY REDS: Adair (Katz 49); Watkins, Robling, Eastwell (Hardy 52), Davies; Cope (Kolo'ofa'i 79), Fisilau; Thomas (McCarthy 58), Macfarlane (Buckle 58), Kerrod (Armstrong 69), McKern, Voss, Freeman (c), Graham (Argyle 62), Haining.
CORNISH PIRATES: May; Moyle, Hendrickson, Dancer, O'Meara; Cargill, Day; Andrew P (Gendall 48), Channon (Elloway 69), Andrew J, Morgan (c), Caulfield, Lee (Parker 69), Cheesman (Simmonds 48), Duncan. Replacements (unused): Pope, Bartlett, De Battista.
REFEREE: Steve Lee. Assistants: Phil Watters, Greg D Garner
Half Time: 17-3
Man-of-the-match (chosen by match sponsor Comprop): Nick Haining (Jersey)
Tries: Adair 8, Freeman 16, Haining 46
Conversions: Cope 8, 16, 46
Penalties: Cope 28, Katz 79
Tries: Gendall 55, Simmonds 57, Moyle 61
Conversions: Cargill 55, 57, 61
Penalty: Cargill 23
31 Mar 2023
Five games remain to define Championship season