The Reds marked their return to home turf after a 60-week absence by turning on the style in a nine-try demolition of Nottingham in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
With just over 1,000 in the house – the first time since September 2020 that a rugby match in the British Isles had been played in front of spectators – the home side enjoyed themselves in sunny, but windy, conditions.
The crowd at Stade Santander International gave their team, a riotous welcome as they took the field, with banging boards and ringing cowbells.
The Reds got on the board within four minutes when scrum-half Max Green broke off the side of a maul and Jack Macfarlane followed up to score, and almost added a second when Brendan Owen intercepted and nearly freed Jack Roberts; but the visitors replied when Jordan Coghlan broke through and the ball was worked to Luke Mehson for a try in the corner.
Matti Williams got the second Jersey try with a powerful burst to the posts from 30 metres and then winger Owen showed great pace in eluding numerous defenders to claim a brace of tries. Dan Barnes created the first, while the second followed a powerful run from Max Argyle and cunning approach play by Tom Williams.
The wind created problems for both sides, with several kicks going too long and those in the other direction being held up.
As the game resumed after the break, there was an early blow for the visitors as fly-half Sam Hollingsworth suffered an injury and play was held up for around five minutes, before the stricken player was able to walk off to appreciative applause from the home crowd.
The Reds kept up the pace of scoring thanks to some scintillating attacking play. Green stretched over within six minutes of the resumption – assists from Scott Van Breda and Jack Roberts – and then Owen had his hat-trick gift-wrapped thanks to an interception.
Nottingham made the most of a charged-down clearance to claim their second try through Luke Frost, but after that it was all Jersey. Replacement prop Ollie Dawe barged over from close range after fine attacking play from the Reds’ backs, then James Elliott and Van Breda created a try for Roberts through some silky offloading.
The Green-and-Whites maintained their ambition to attack until the end, but ultimately this was their undoing when an attempt to break out from behind their try-line broke down and Barnes pounced on the loose ball for the final try.
After being cheered on by the supporters throughout the game, the Reds' players returned the favour after the final whistle as they made a lap of the ground.
‘It all came together today after a tough time and the guys were really enjoying playing at home,’ said a delighted Harvey Biljon after the game. ‘We got a score on the board early and that took some of the pressure off and we were pretty ruthless in taking chances after that.
‘The squad have worked really hard and hopefully can kick on from here and enjoy the rest of the season.’
After five successive away trips to start the season as a result of Covid restrictions in Jersey that were only recently eased, Biljon sympathised with the visitors.
‘Give Nottingham credit for sticking to task – we know what it’s like to travel on the day,’ he said.
A range of match-day protocols were in place to ensure the occasion could proceed as safely and smoothly as possible. This included temperature checks for supporters, card-only payments, reminders about distancing and wearing masks indoors and the fact that the visiting team and officials remained in the match 'bubble'. The occasion was overseen by officials from Environmental Health, while Reds' players and officials will take part in their regular testing regime this week prior to next Saturday's trip to Ampthill.
Pictures: Rich Chapman
JERSEY REDS: Van Breda; Williams, Roberts, Barnes, Owen; Cope (Pretorius 63), Green (Elliott 70); Richardson (Dawe 50), Macfarlane (Clarke 62), Parker (Higgins 62), O’Connor (Scott 70), Cook, Argyle, Wynne (c) (Bainbridge 65), Williams M (Grey 65).
NOTTINGHAM: Stapley (Manihera h-t); Mehson, Thacker, Riddington, Browning; Hollingsworth (Stronge 43), Dolly; Sio (Williams 47), Farnworth (c) (Evans 47), Garside (Betts 47), Birch (Allen 64), Frost, Cox (Hall 53), Kirwan (Ryan 53), Coghlan.
REFEREE: Alex Thomas. Assistants: Steve Lee, Ian Bibey
Half Time: 26-5
Tries: Macfarlane 4, Williams M 16, Owen 21, 31, 49, Green 46, Dawe 62, Roberts 75, Barnes 80
Conversions: Cope 4, 16, 21, 49, Pretorius 75
Tries: Mehson 14, Frost 54
Conversion: Dolly 54