The Reds left a difficult first quarter far behind and stormed to a dominant bonus-point win over Nottingham in their first match of 2019.
The home side racked up five tries to keep themselves in the mix at the top end of the table and set up an enticing contest with Bedford next weekend – the Blues defeated second-placed Ealing Trailfinders and are level with Jersey on 38 points apiece.
The Reds were in trouble after misjudging the kick-off in swirling wind, and soon conceded a penalty which the Championship’s leading points scorer, Shane O’Leary, stroked over. He repeated the feat twice more as the home side again fell foul of the referee.
Both sides were forced to make early reshuffles – Nottingham lost lock Llewellyn Jones, whose replacement Sam Lewis was also injured soon after half-time. And the Reds were disappointed to see Koch Marx limp off barely half an hour into his comeback game after a two-month absence.
Jersey found their feet and having earned a penalty advantage, during which Brett Herron stabbed the ball through and collected to dive over by the posts. Another advantage was finished with equal ruthlessness, the ball worked quickly to Leroy Van Dam, who showed power and agility to finish in the Bowl corner.
There was no further scoring before half-time – the visitors had a late chance to convert a rolling maul after kicking for the corner, but the Jersey forwards executed an effective spoiling job.
With an appreciable wind at their backs, the Reds started strongly after the break. Herron stroked over a penalty and within two minutes was converting a mauled try in the corner: the Reds took a while to gain forward momentum, but then rumbled to the line and Charlie Maddison touched down.
Although the visitors gave themselves hope with a try by skipper Murray McConnell, who took a scoring pass from Sean Scanlon after a powerful break by Will Millett, the Reds were still dominant, regularly threatening in attack and unbreachable – with the one exception – in defence.
Herron added another penalty and completed a 100 per cent record by converting a brace of tries – firstly Will Homer burst through the Green and White midfield and hared to the line after picking up second-phase ball from a midfield ruck, then replacement hooker Nick Selway in the dying minutes.
The Reds had other try-scoring opportunities, notably for Aaron Penberthy, who had been summoned from the bench after Marx was injured. The ball was worked quickly across the line and Auguy Slowik fed Penberthy in the right wing position for a sprint to the line, but he was just forced out in the Pavilion corner. And when a Nottingham attack broke down in the face of their hosts’ tough tackling, Penberthy hacked the ball across half-way and pursued alongside James Newey, but the duo were foiled by scrambling Green and White defence; this caused winger Jack Spittle to collide with the hoardings behind the dead-ball line, and meant the visitors played the last six minutes with 14 men after he was forced off and no replacements remained.
England wing Tom Varndell made his Nottingham debut on loan from Leicester Tigers but had few opportunities to show his attacking abilities.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon was pleased to see his side brush aside the challenge of giving their visitors a nine-point start.
“We invited some pressure early on through some unforced errors, and Nottingham came out with real energy, but overall it was a great way to start the year – we need to build momentum from displays like this as we have some tough games to come,” he said.
Nottingham’s Head Coach Neil Fowkes said: “We had the wind and took the three-pointers early on, but Jersey came back with two good tries and the lead they had at the break looked enough in these conditions – it’s a tough place to come, especially if your discipline is off.”
Pictures available via Jersey RFC Facebook page…
Match highlights available HERE
JERSEY REDS: Slowik; Marx (Penberthy 34), Newey, Ma’afu, Van Dam; Herron, Homer (Mudariki 71); Morley (Godfrey 46), Maddison (Selway 58), Atalifo (Rodman 54), Sexton (c), Beckett, Bartle (Upfield 65), Argyle, Venter (Hatherell 58).
NOTTINGHAM: Scanlon; Spittle, Millett, Peters (Lyons 59), Varndell; O’Leary, McConnell (c) (Veenendaal 50); Hills (Jack 58), Farnworth, Daniels (Heffernan 61), Jones (Lewis 15, Cox 48), Buckley, Coghlan, Owen (Brownlie 67), Poullet.
REFEREE: Dean Richards. Assistants: Bill Burton, Tim Bailey
Half Time: 14-9
Man-of-the-match (as chosen by match-day sponsor Carey Olsen): Brett Herron (Jersey Reds)
Tries: Herron 19, Van Dam 29, Maddison 43, Homer 59, Selway 78
Conversions: Herron 19, 29, 43, 59, 78
Penalties: Herron 41, 50
Try: McConnell 45
Conversion: O’Leary 45
Penalties: O’Leary 3, 11, 16