In a game that swung between topsy-turvy and helter-skelter, the Reds recovered their composure and battled back from a 22-point deficit to claim an eventually comfortable win in their final league outing at Stade Santander International.
The home side were rocked by a first half blitz that saw them concede four tries in 15 minutes, but eventually scored eight tries of their own, equalling the club's Championship record set in the recent game against London Scottish.
The home side struck first with on-loan centre James Newey crossing after just four minutes for his first try for Jersey following good approach play by Scott Van Breda and Tom Pincus. But as in the previous home league match against Rotherham, the early score may have left the Reds thinking they were in for an easy afternoon, minds perhaps already drifting to next weekend's British & Irish Cup challenge against Leinster. The reality was that their opponents were both determined and motivated. Tiff Eden's penalty got the Green & Whites on the board, and then superb interplay between Will Millett and Billy Robinson led to the latter scoring his side's first try after a 60-metre counter from a Reds' box-kick.
A yellow card to Jersey's Max Argyle for a high tackle triggered more points for the visitors: Ben West went over straight from the resulting lineout, then skipper Ben Morris fed Shane Buckley and finally Tim Cardall took a pass from Sean Scanlon to canter home.
The Reds were able to trim the deficit before the break thanks to tries by Auguy Slowik - playing his first match after being injured in the match at Nottingham at the start of December - after a Van Breda run and Jerry Sexton from a lineout. Their tails up, there was no let-up from the Reds after the break: Brendan Cope and Jake Upfield (the latter's being another maiden try) crossed at the end of flowing backs moves and the Reds were back in front, having scored four tries in 14 minutes either side of the break to eclipse their opponents' scoring burst. Slowik's second just before the hour gave a little breathing space.
Although there was a lull in the scoring for most of the third quarter, and a couple of instances of over-confidence from the home side, the Reds had been increasingly dominant in all areas of the game. This included driving Nottingham straight off their scrum ball on two occasions, and finally led to two more late scores after each side was reduced to 14 with replacement scrum halves Kieran Hardy and Darryl Veenendaal sin-binned after a scuffle. First Cope crossed from the stand-in scrum-half position and with the last play Van Breda fed Tom Pincus for a final flourish - the wing's 11th Championship try of the season to date.
"The first half hour was definitely not in the script - we knew Nottingham would be like a wounded animal after losing heavily the previous weekend, but we failed to weather the storm and made several errors in defence," said Reds' Assistant Coach Neil Tunnah. "The players were challenged to get on the front foot and get points on the board, and we finished strongly including some good impact from the bench."
Tunnah admitted that his players would have to be better able to marry the attacking and defensive aspect of their games if they were to withstand the challenge of Leinster 'A' in next Saturday's British & Irish Cup semi-final.
"I don't think you'd be able to claw back a deficit like that against Leinster, that's for sure. But it'll be a fresh challenge, and hopefully everyone will report fit for selection at the start of the week and we'll have a really good build-up. It's a massive game and I hope our supporters will respond and turn up in good numbers and loud voice."
Nottingham Head Coach Ian Costello bemoaned his side's failure to push on from a good opening 30 minutes.
"There was a real momentum swing at the end of the first half with two soft tries and we were very, very poor in the second half, it was a comprehensive scoreline in the end."
After results elsewhere, the Reds stayed in fifth position in the Greene King IPA Championship table and are guaranteed a top-half finish. The exact finishing position will depend on the final match of the season, away to Doncaster Knights on April 28th, plus results for rivals, including games in hand for both Bedford Blues (currently third) and Yorkshire Carnegie (sixth).
Tickets for the crucial semi-final clash against Leinster 'A' are just £10 (including members, non-members and season ticket holders) and £5 for students if purchased through the Eventbrite site before 3pm on Friday. After this rates rise to the full prices of £12 and £7 respectively. Places are also available for the £10 meal deal for the Santander International Supporters Marquee. LINK TO EVENTBRITE
JERSEY REDS: Van Breda (c); Pincus, Newey, Eastwell, Slowik (Hodson 75); Cope, Dudley (Hardy 62, YC 72); Godfrey (c) (Woolmore 54), Saunders (Selway 62), Atalifo (Armstrong 54), Sexton (Bartle 49-52), Kolo'ofa'i (Bartle 54), Argyle (YC 17) (Joyce 70), Upfield, Rogerson.
NOTTINGHAM: Scanlon; Cobden, Millett, Lyons, Robinson; Eden (Hakalo 59), McConnell (Veenendaal 61, YC 72); West (Penman 59), Stevens (Brownlie 66), Burke (Hall 3-13, 53), Cardall, Morris (c) (Cecil 76), Buckley (Cox 66), Coghlan, Poullet.
REFEREE: Steve Lee. Assistants: Phil Watters, Simon Park
Half Time: 21-29
Man-of-the-match (as chosen by match sponsor HSBC): Scott van Breda (Jersey Reds)
Tries: Newey 4, Slowik 35, 56, Sexton 39, Cope 42, 75, Upfield 49, Pincus 80
Conversion: Cope 4, 35, 39, 75, 80
Tries: Robinson 11, West 18, Buckley 24, Cardall 26
Conversions: Eden 18, 24, 26
Penalty: Eden 8
31 Mar 2023
Five games remain to define Championship season