There was a renewed round of B&I Cup heartbreak for the Reds as they fell victim to an amazing comeback from Leinster 'A'.
Seemingly home and hosed at 27-8 ahead with barely five minutes to play, the Jersey conceded three quickfire tries to their Irish visitors, all converted by Ciarán Frawley, whose touchline conversion with the final kick was enough to win it.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon said the Reds were "jinxed" in the B&I after losing by a single point in last year's final to Munster 'A' in Cork - exactly one year ago - and by the same margin at the semi-final stage to Leeds Carnegie in 2016.
"We've put a huge amount of effort in, but it doesn't seem meant to be," he said. "I didn't think we got the reward we deserved for our set-piece dominance, but that's not sour grapes - Leinster had to score the points to win it, so credit to them.
"Injuries took their toll - we missed Kuki Ma'afu who had had an astonishing game, and then they attacked in the last phase directly where Joel Dudley [the replacement scrum-half who limped off with an ankle injury] would have been defending.
"We'll have a fair few battered bodies when we come back on Monday, but we have one more game left [the Championship visit to Doncaster Knights] so let's go up there and enjoy it."
The opening period was scoreless for 35 minutes, but featured a gradual ascendancy for the Reds, mainly through their forwards who were especially dominant at scrum time.
Eventually the visitors wilted and lost two players to the sin-bin in quick succession: Ed Byrne for preventing quick ball at a ruck and Vakh Abdaladze for another scrum infringement. The next scrum was uncontested, but with a 7:5 numerical advantage in the backs Kieran Hardy was able to find Tom Pincus for the opening try in the Airport corner.
Although Leinster replied with a Frawley penalty, the restart was won by Apakuki Ma'afu; Nick Selway ploughed forward and then Ma'afu broke the line and put in Hardy for his 13th try of the season right on half time.
After a lengthy injury break early in the second period, with Ma'afu stretchered off with a neck injury, the Reds stretched their lead with two Brendan Cope penalties. Peadar Timmins got a try back for the visitors after a storming run from replacement prop Peter Dooley, but when silky interplay between Jersey's back three created a try for Jason Worrall, the result seemed foregone.
A physical contest on a hot day took its toll and Leinster had the energy and nerve to battle back against a Reds' side reduced to 14 men through injury. Frawley's charge-down try sparked the comeback, then replacement scrum-half Hugh O'Sullivan darted over, and finally, with no time left, a penalty to the corner led to a mauled try for another substitute, Will Connors and Frawley's clinically-applied last-gasp winner.
While Leinster 'A' progress to a final against Ealing Trailfinders, comfortable 36-16 winners over Bedford Blues, the Reds will have to regroup for one last hurrah in the league against Doncaster Knights.
JERSEY REDS: Van Breda (c); Pincus, Ma'afu (Eastwell 47), Best, Worrall; Cope, Hardy (Dudley 70); Woolmore (c) (Godfrey 56), Selway (Saunders 47), Armstrong (Atalifo 54), Sexton, Bartle (Kolo'ofa'i 58), Argyle (Upfield 66), Joyce, Rogerson.
LEINSTER 'A': Frawley; A Byrne, Mullin (Daly 51), C O’Brien, T O’Brien; Marsh (Kelly 55), Rock (O'Sullivan 69); E Byrne (YC 29), B Byrne (c) (McNulty 69), Abdaladze (YC 32) (Dooley 17), Kearney, Nagle (Dowling 58-61), Murphy, Timmins, Doris (Connors 56)
REFEREE: Ian Davies (WRU). Assistants: Gareth Newman (WRU) & Jason Bessant (WRU)
Half Time: 14-3
Star Man: Ciaran Frawley (Leinster 'A')
Tries: Pincus 35, Hardy 40, Worrall 67
Conversions: Cope 35, 40, 67
Penalties: Cope 50, 61
Tries: Timmins 64, Frawley 75, O'Sullivan 79, Connors 82
Conversions: Frawley 75, 79, 82
Penalty: Frawley 39
31 Mar 2023
Five games remain to define Championship season