Jersey Reds headed to Britanny for their first match against a French team in the professional era, taking on RC Vannes of Pro D2, the gallic equivalent of the Greene King IPA Championship. The Breton side outscored the Reds by six tries to two on a sunny evening in the coastal resort of Arzon, but the visitors could take heart from their display.
Not only were Vannes, whose average crowd size and budget are considerably higher than their opponents' numbers, playing their final match before commencing league hostilities, but they had a more settled squad with 11 returning players in their starting XV. The Reds, by contrast, featured 11 debutants at kick-off time, with another brace introduced from the bench.
After a scoreless first quarter, a mounting penalty count led to a yellow card for Jersey lock Uili Kolo'ofa'i after 20 minutes, and soon afterwards the deadlock was broken by the hosts. Fly-half Chris Hilsenbeck found centre Frederic Hickes and then Gwenael Duplenne came in off the left wing to cross.
Apart from an Oli Bryant effort on goal that drifted wide, the Reds used the penalties they did win to kick for field position and came close twice but were unable to grab an equalising try before the break - one early catch-and-drive from a lineout had looked promising but was called back for obstruction, and it was another obstruction or crossing call that saw Jason Worrall called back after bursting through in midfield.
Ross Adair came off the bench to grab an intercept score as soon as the second half kicked off and Tom Pincus' conversion meant the Reds led briefly 5-7.
It wasn't long before the Breton side were back in front - flanker Steeve Blanc-Mappaz crossed after a pacy attacking movement, and this was the start of a stream of tries for the hosts. Duplenne grabbed his second and then the impressive Hickes claimed a brace to stretch the lead to 33-7.
Adair looked dangerous - the Ulsterman grabbed his second following slick hands across the pitch from the Reds, and could have had a third but for a fractionally over-hit kick ahead, and Kieran Hardy also had some good runs. Vannes had the last word when replacement Kévin Burgaud crossed in the closing stages.
"It was a really good hit-out for us and we'll take a lot from it," said Head Coach Harvey Biljon. "Nobody likes losing, of course, but I said to the boys when we signed off that we now have some good hard game-time under our belts that we can learn from.
"Vannes were a really powerful outfit and they have obviously recruited and prepared well. This was clearly their big game of pre-season, in front of their home support.
"I thought they had the rub of the green with a couple of decisions, and we know that we left a few points out there with opportunities that I'd expect us to take once the squad is more settled - you'll always get some unforced errors in your first game."
The new-look Reds' squad will run out in front of their home crowd for the first time this Saturday when they take on National 1 opponents Coventry at St Peter. Kick-off at St Peter is at 3pm and adult tickets are available online via Eventbrite, or on the gate.
There'll be a chance to find out more about the Vannes trip, look ahead to Saturday's game and meet the players at an event for members at St Peter this Tuesday - CLICK HERE for more details.
RC VANNES: Bouthier; Pic, Mourot, Hickes, Duplenne; Hilsenbeck, Le Bail; Fry, Cloostermans, Tafili, Jones, Van Jaarsveld, Abiven, Blanc-Mappaz, Vosawai (c). Replacements: Dumas, Sunia, Ischenko, Anga'aelangi, Blanchard, Delangle, Picquette, De Bruin, Picault, Courtois; Payen, Burgaud, Lagarde, Bly, Le Bourhis
JERSEY REDS: Pincus; Hodson, Best, Eastwell, Worrall; Bryant, Duchesne; Godfrey (c), Selway, Armstrong, Kolo'ofa'i (YC 20), Sexton, Bartle, Joyce, Pitman. Replacements: Macfarlane, Woolmore, Brodley, Voss, Rogerson, Argyle; Hardy, Cope, Ma'afu, Adair
REFEREE: Matthieu Delpy
Half Time: 5-0
Tries: Duplenne 23, 48, Blanc-Mappaz 45, Hickes 53, 57, Burgaud 77
Conversions: Bouthier 45, Le Bourhis 48, Hilsenbeck 53, 57
Tries: Adair 41, 68
Conversions: Pincus 41, 68
Why not get yourself a Hot Pot (Curry or Chilli served with rice) in the supporters marquee £8 per pot.