With their character and resolve tested by a determined second-half fightback by their Nottingham hosts, Jersey dug deep to secure an impressive win.
Having been 15 points up at the interval, the Reds looked as if they were going to play a significant part in their own downfall at one stage, gifting their opponents a second try to level the scores with 12 minutes to play. But Jersey had enough about them to rally for the winning score and then hold on for victory.
The match was played in cold, still conditions on a sticky pitch that cut up from the start. There were a few verbal barbs between the coaches and match officials ahead of kick-off about whether the surface was fit to play on, but the match was never in serious doubt and the pitch was a long way short of being unsafe or unplayable.
Nottingham conceded an early penalty at the breakdown and Brendan Cope accepted the opportunity of an early sighter from 30 metres to give his side the lead.
Although Jersey were mostly in control, the Green-and-Whites had their moments and Sam Coghlan Murray burst through only to be called back when the Assistant Referee called a forward pass. For the visitors, Joel Dudley's sniping break took him close, and a surge by the equally lively Simon Kerrod was stopped even closer.
Home fly-half Lawrence Rayner had a fairly straightforward chance to level the scores, 25 metres out and about midway between the posts and the touchline on his favoured left side, but the right-footer hooked his effort against the post and Jersey countered with devastating effect. Nick Haining caught the ball and charged forward, finding skipper Pierce Phillips to make more valuable yards.
Jersey span quick ball to the right and when the ball was chipped through into the opposing half, Tom Howe sprinted through, hacked on and showed lightning pace to touch down.
Seeking to maintain their momentum, the Reds launched a sustained period of attack that eventually led to a penalty in the corner and a mauled try which was finished by Phillips.
Although they spurned chances to trim the deficit in the closing stages of the first half, Nottingham played with purpose after the resumption and successive penalties close to Jersey's line led to a mauled try for skipper Paul Grant. Rayner's well-struck conversion was his last act before Dan Mugford came on as replacement, and the new man soon made his presence felt.
After a threatening Jersey break by Oli Evans and Ross Adair, the ball was spilled and Mugford hacked forward, almost winning the race to the ball on halfway only to be thwarted by Cope diving bravely at his feet to secure possession. Soon afterwards Mugford slotted a penalty and the home side were in touch as the final quarter began.
Nottingham were next to threaten, replacement scrum-half Darryl Veenendaal almost scoring a similar try to Howe's after a kick ahead, and then some teak-tough Jersey defence holding the line against subsequent pressure.
Then it was Jersey's chance to seal the win, with a Cope chip collected by Adair and quick ball from the resulting maul offering the chance of a try. Everyone knew the Reds had numbers out wide, not least Campbell when he received the ball in midfield. It would be harsh to be too critical of the giant Scot's handling - Messrs Dudley, Cope and Robling would probably be little use in a lineout - but his attempt at a long cut-out pass to his colleagues on the left wing was the stuff of nightmares. The floating ball was picked off and Conor Carey and Rob Langley combined for an 80-metre counter, defying the attempts of Rich Lane to stop them - there were also vehement Jersey appeals that the final pass was forward - and ending with Langley's try near the posts.
Mugford's easy conversion would have given his side the lead for the first time, but Jersey were again reprieved by the woodwork. The Reds breathed again, and set their sights on a winning score.
Having had the better of the scrummaging encounters for most of the evening, Jersey's forwards were again able to squeeze their opponents into the concession of a penalty. From more than 40 metres and close to the touchline, Cope would have been towards the edge of his range in going for goal, so instead the South African fired a pinpoint touch-finder towards the corner flag. Then it was back to the forwards, with Nick Selway finding his man at the lineout and the maul moving steadily towards the posts. Forward progress was initially slow, but then the secondary shove came, and the tired home forwards had no answer but to bring it down and concede a penalty try.
Nottingham had little left in the tank for the five minutes that remained, and Jersey held on to complete an impressive, if not wobble-free, victory.
Jersey RFC (1-15): Sam Lockwood, Joe Buckle, Simon Kerrod, Nick Campbell, Pierce Phillips (capt), Nick Haining, James Freeman, Uili Kolo'ofa'i; Joel Dudley, Brendan Cope; Rich Lane, Lewis Robling, Oli Evans, Tom Howe, Ross Adair.
Replacements: Nick Selway (for Buckle 59 mins), Tommy Spinks (Kolo'ofa'i 59), Danny Herriott (Kerrod 65), Jack Moates (Dudley 70), Dave Markham (Campbell 70), Sean McCarthy (Lockwood 75). Unused replacement: Aaron Penberthy.
Nottingham Rugby (1-15): Kieran Davies, Jon Vickers, Mike Daniels, Morgan Eames, Toby Freeman, Rupert Cooper, Rob Langley, Paul Grant (capt); Murray McConnell, Lawrence Rayner; Sam Coghlan Murray, Vili Hakalo, Ben Woods, Josh Skelcey; Billy Robinson.
Used replacements: TJ Harris, Conor Carey, Matt Everard, Darryl Veenendaal, Dan Mugford, Heath Stevens. Unused replacement: Joe Green
REFEREE: Andrew Small (RFU)
Half Time: 0-15
Tries: Grant 47, Langley 68
Conversion: Rayner 47
Penalty: Mugford 58
Tries: Howe 25, Phillips 33, Penalty Try 73
Conversions: Cope 33, 73
Penalty: Cope 2
Report by Tom Innes, reproduced by kind permission of the Jersey Evening Post
27 Jan 2023
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