The Reds fought out a thrilling 28-28 against Vannes in their opening match of 2021/22.
Taking on a home team who came close to promotion to the French top tier last season, the visitors but were unawed in front of 2,960 spectators at Stade de la Rabine.
The hosts scored an early try but then Brendan Cope’s cross-kick was seized in the air and touched down by Ryan Olowofela. Cope converted.
The hosts recovered to score two more tries and lead 21-7 at the break; There were points in the first period when the larger home pack, playing their second and final match of pre-season, threatened to dominate their opponents, but there were no backward steps from the Reds. Front row duo Harry Doolan and Huw Owen stood up strongly on their debuts and there was also strong carrying from Macauley Cook, Tim Grey and skipper Lewis Wynne.
Although they had limited opportunities, the Reds’ backline looked sharp, fired by the lively James Elliott from scrum-half and with good ground gained by Jack Roberts in midfield and Olowofela out wide.
The Reds started strongly after the break and earned a penalty try after Vannes were unable to legally defend the Jersey maul.
The Bretons restored their 14-point lead on the hour but soon afterwards Scott Van Breda hacked through and chased to put Vannes on the back-foot. The visitors capitalised when Ciaran Parker steamed over adjacent to the posts, with Bader Pretorius’ conversion making it 28-21.
Both side made multiple replacements at half-time and during the second period, with three more new signings making their Reds’ debut off the bench and a return to Jersey colours for Guy Thompson after eight years. The visitors were the livelier of the two sides and certainly seemed to surpass the fitness levels of their opponents.
With seven minutes to play, another superb counter saw Wes White feed Pretorius for the fourth Jersey try in the corner and the fly-half converted magnificently from the touchline to level it.
The crowd of almost 3,000 became particularly animated during the closing stages as both teams pressed to score the ninth try of the contest and break the deadlock.
The home side eschewed a potential winning penalty kick in pursuit of a try, but could not execute the maul and then the Reds launched a penalty towards halfway to set up the move that saw Olowofela go close. Even then Vannes tried to counter from behind their posts, but were eventually forced into touch and the final whistle blew.
With 10 new signings making their debuts, it was a fine display by the Reds against a well-resourced and ambitious home side.
Harvey Biljon hailed the character of his players after their audacious attempt to snatch victory.
Biljon was disappointed that the win eluded his side, claiming a penalty try for a push on Olowofela, but his main sentiment was satisfaction in making a positive start to a tough pre-season campaign.
"We could have finished the game and taken the draw, but we went all out to win it and that shows the attitude and character of this group," he said.
"Vannes is a pretty intimidating place to play, the supporters create a fantastic atmosphere with their drums and really get behind the team, so we should take some confidence from the way we responded."
The Reds face Leicester Tigers at Stade Santander International this Friday, with a 5pm kick-off marking the start of the bank holiday weekend for Island rugby supporters.
VANNES (15-9, 1-8): Borie; Curtis, Valleau, Symons, Gratien; Hilsenbeck (c), Saseras; Bordelai, Béziat, Kité, Barry, Edwards, Picault, Bazin, Boulier. Replacements: Abraham, Blanchard, Tafili, O’Shea, Leroux, Iachizzi, Jordaan, Pagès, Etienne, Duplenne, Burgaud, Holder, Vérité, Dumas, Leafa, Desjeux, Viboni, Paige, Troin, Ah You.
JERSEY REDS (15-9, 1-8): Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Jack Roberts, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown; Brendan Cope, James Elliott; Huw Owen, Harry Doolan, Jack Higgins, Max Ayling, Macauley Cook, Alex Humfrey, Lewis Wynne (c), Tim Grey. Replacements: Jack Macfarlane, James Flynn, Roy Godfrey, Ciaran Parker, Zak Farrance, Sean O’Connor, Wesley White, Guy Thompson, Max Argyle, James Mitchell, Bader Pretorius, Scott Van Breda. Unused: Eoghan Clarke, Will Lane.
REFEREE: Aurélie Groizeleau (FFR)
Half Time: 21-7
Tries: Curtis 7, Valleau 14, Bazin 34, Jordaan 58
Conversions: Hilsenbeck 7, 14, Borie 34, Etienne 58
Tries: Olowofela 12, Penalty Try 44, Parker 63, Pretorius 72
Conversions: Cope 12, Pretorius 63, 72