Jersey Reds and Cornish Pirates delivered a thriller to round off the season, with the Reds prevailing by a single point following a late comeback by the visitors.
One of the best games seen on the Island for several seasons featured nine tries enjoyed on a warm, sunny day by more than 1,300 spectators.
The win helped the Reds move up to sixth in the final rankings after a shortened Championship season featuring 10 games for each club.
Jersey director of rugby Harvey Biljon was delighted but exhausted after seeing his side finish on a high and claim sixth place in the final Championship rankings.
After a Brendan Cope penalty midway through the first half to open the scoring, Tom Williams claimed the first try courtesy of a soaring catch near halfway, after which he landed on his feet and streaked 50 metres to the try-line.
The Pirates struck back through Pat Schickerling’s close-range effort and then each side scored a further try apiece in the closing stages of the half: Eoghan Clarke from a maul for the Reds – his first try in Jersey colours – and then AJ Cant for the Pirates, after good approach work by Arwel Robson and Will Butler, to make it 17-10 at the break.
After repelling some early Pirate attacks soon after the break, the Reds forwards began to turn the screw and marched up the field through a series of penalties and lineout drives that eventually saw Pirates’ skipper Tom Duncan sin-binned for collapsing a maul near the try-line. Soon afterwards the Reds struck as Scott Van Breda raced through a midfield gap to the line to make the most of another penalty advantage.
Dan Frost pulled one back for the Pirates, but another Cope penalty and a second mauled try for the Jersey pack, touched down by Macfarlane, stretched the lead to 32-17 and appeared to finish the contest, with just a minute left on the stadium clock and an estimated six minutes of official time – the crowd were celebrating and the Reds’ XV turned their attention to off-season trips to the pub, or the beach, or both.
But there was some late drama to come: after a Jersey knock-on from the restart, Shae Tucker raced onto Maliq Holden’s deft grubber, and two minutes later Rhodri Davies went under the posts after an outrageous dummy by John Stevens, with a quick-as-you-like conversion by Will Cargill narrowing the gap to a single point.
To their credit, the Reds snapped out of ‘job done’ mode and charged after Cope’s deep restart like men possessed. Pirates tried to run the ball back out of their 22, but after two passes Cargill was tackled back halfway to St Peter’s Garden Centre by Macfarlane, and a knock-on seconds later brought the final whistle.
Looking back on the game, as well as the season as a whole – in which pre-season training began in early August – an emotional Harvey Biljon said:
‘There’s been a fair bit of adversity, but today you saw what it meant, not just to the 23 players out there, but all those who prepped them through the week and to our supporters, who really gave us that extra one per cent when we needed it,’ he said.
‘Sometimes at the end of the season players are going through the motions, but the guys were giving it everything, whether they were playing their first game or their 101st.’
Pirates’ co-coach Alan Paver said: “It was a decent contest, and overall I thought Jersey deserved their win, they had us chasing the game and got into good field positions – they had the wind and the slope against them, so they did well.
“We showed some good team spirit and pride ourselves from playing from the first minute to the 85th – our season was ‘ok to good’ although it could have been something really special.”
The game was also an interesting contest statistically in the context of 16 Championship encounters between the clubs since Jersey reached the second tier in 2012:
- The one-point winning margin was the same as on the occasion of the Reds’ most recent league trip to Cornwall: it finished Pirates 7 Reds 8 at the Mennaye in March 2019.
- Close encounters are typical of the match-up, with 12 games ending with a deficit of six points or fewer. The Reds have won twice by a single point and four times by two points.
- In contrast to a high proportion of losing bonus points, try BPs have been as rare as hens’ teeth in this fixture. Pirates scored four tries in defeat by 28-26 on the Island in April 2015, but no other try BPs were achieved until both sides claimed one at Stade Santander in May 2021.
- The 54 points scored in the April 2015 fixture at St Peter was the highest combined tally in the fixture until the two teams racked up 63 points in May 2021.
- The highest score by one side, and the biggest winning margin, was achieved by the Reds in October 2018, with a 33-10 win on home turf.
Pictures by Rich Chapman - more available via Jersey RFC Facebook page
JERSEY REDS (15-9, 1-8): Scott Van Breda; Brendan Owen, Jack Roberts (Bader Pretorius 75), Dan Barnes, Tom Williams; Brendan Cope, Max Green (James Elliott 42); Dan Richardson (Ollie Dawe 72), Eoghan Clarke (Jack Macfarlane 55), Ciaran Parker (Jack Higgins 72), Zak Farrance (James Scott 60), Sean O’Connor (Matti Williams 72), Macauley Cook, Lewis Wynne (capt) (Josh Bainbridge 62), Max Argyle.
CORNISH PIRATES (15-9, 1-8): AJ Cant (Shae Tucker 68), Maliq Holden, Rory Parata, Will Butler, Tommy Wyatt, Arwel Robson (Will Cargill 74), JB Bruzulier (Rhodri Davies 51); Marlen Walker (Jack Andrew 63), Dan Frost (Tom Channon 74), Patrick Schickerling (Sam Rodman 63), Josh Caulfield, Danny Cutmore (Fa’atiga Lemalu 50), Matt Bolwell, Antonio Kiri Kiri, Tom Duncan (capt) (YC 54) (John Stevens 63).
REFEREE: Dean Richards. Assistants: Peter Brunt, Simon Adams
Half Time: 17-10
Tries: T Williams 22, Clarke 34, Van Breda 55, Macfarlane 73
Conversions: Cope 22, 34, 55
Penalties: Cope 21, 61
Tries: Schickerling 26, Cant 38, Frost 58, Tucker 77, Davies 79
Conversions: Robson 58, Cargill 77, 79