A Jersey Reds comeback proved a case of too little, too late at the Richmond Athletic Ground, where the home team claimed their first Greene King IPA Championship win of 2017/18 at the fourth attempt.
In a display branded simply "not good enough" by Head Coach Harvey Biljon, the Reds failed to capitalise on early pressure and then gave themselves too much to do by falling 17 points behind a fired-up and committed home side early in the second half.
On a still, calm day, the Reds began strongly and were awarded a stream of penalties. The first two were at the limit of Brendan Cope's kicking range and the fly-half went for the corner. Initially Richmond battled to legally defend the catch-and-drive, having conceded multiple tries through this route to Bristol in their previous game, and skipper Will Warden was warned as the penalty count reached 6-0 against his side. But the next lineout throw was ruled not straight and the home side cleared their lines with the scoreboard still unmoved.
Richmond started to show their attacking potential and might have scored but for good defence on the try-line by James Voss after a kick-ahead, and in midfield by Cope to tap-tackle Ronnie Mclean. Although there was a deficit of around a stone's weight per player in the pack, with the Reds in the ascendancy at scrum-time, the home side also showed they could pose a threat through the forwards: a rolling maul got close to the line and after a series of drives, scrum-half Luc Jones burrowed over, Rob Kirby's conversion making it 7-0.
The visitors had their moments in attack, with some powerful bursts in the middle by Rory Pitman - until the Welsh number 8 went off for a head injury assessment - and Voss, and some pace on the left wing by Josh Hodson, but too often passes went into space and allowed easy get-outs for the opposition, who also defended magnificently throughout.
The seven-point half-time deficit may not have seemed a massive hurdle for the visitors, but within five minutes it was 17-0, with replacement Jordan Simpson-Hefft crossing in the left-hand corner to finish a break by Jono Woodward and Kirby adding five more points from the tee.
It was nearly an hour into the game before back-row duo Conor Joyce and Seb Nagle-Taylor set up Apakuki Ma'afu for Jersey's opening try, with the Tongan finishing gymnastically with one hand before going into touch-in-goal. Although Kirby added another penalty, the Reds were finally looking threatening and Cope might have put Hodson in for a try on the right, but the pass was delayed and eventually forward.
After previously failing to benefit from the catch-and-drive, the Reds did capitalise against 14-men after Jake Parker saw yellow for obstruction following another team warning, with Jerry Sexton claiming the try at the back of the maul. Cope's second conversion, a splendid effort from the 'wrong' touchline, cut the deficit to six points and offered the chance of snatching a win. But the visitors couldn't make the most of their remaining opportunities, including another lost lineout after Cope had fired a huge penalty kick upfield deep into Richmond's 22.
In the closing minutes Richmond were mainly content to soak up pressure, but they also seized on the chance to pull clear, with Kirby's penalty with five minutes to play depriving the visitors of a bonus point.
Harvey Biljon said: "A lot of credit should be given to Richmond for the way they played but we missed opportunity after opportunity and were outsmarted in a couple of areas.
"One bit of reward [from an attacking lineout] from 10 chances wasn't good enough. Richmond were able to slow the game down, and I asked the players for more intensity and tempo at half-time.
"It was a disappointing display and we need to go away and work on it, not look for excuses. We have Bedford coming to our home ground next and we know that'll be a big hurdle against a side who are tipped to be at the top end of the table."
The match against Bedford Blues at Stade Santander International is on Saturday (September 30th), kicking off at 3pm. Advance tickets are available via the Eventbrite site.
Richmond FC (1-15)
Jeremy Cunnew (replaced by Will Goodrick-Clarke 72), Jason Phipps (Ross Grimstone 58), Craig Trenier (Joe Tarrant 69), Will Warden (capt) (Alex Humfrey 62), Chris Davies, Jesse Liston, Jack Allcock (Toby Saysell 24), Jake Parker (YC 67); Luc Jones, Freddie Gabbitass; Martin Freeman, Ronnie McLean, Cameron Mitchell (Jordan Simpson-Hefft 14), Jono Woodward; Rob Kirby. Unused replacement: Jamie Gibbs
Jersey Reds (1-15):
Jake Woolmore (replaced by Roy Godfrey 47 mins), Jared Saunders (capt) (Nick Selway 61), Jake Armstrong (Leeroy Atalifo 61), James Voss (Rory Bartle 52), Jerry Sexton, Matt Rogerson, Conor Joyce, Rory Pitman (Seb Nagle-Taylor 32-40, 47); Kieran Hardy (Joel Dudley 61), Brendan Cope; Josh Hodson, Apakuki Ma'afu, Mark Best, Tom Pincus; Jason Worrall (Oli Bryant 54).
REFEREE: Simon Harding; Assistants: Dan Parrott, Matt Daubney
Half Time: 7-0
Tries: Jones 30, Simpson-Hefft 44
Conversions: Kirby 30, 44
Penalties: Kirby 42, 64, 74
Tries: Ma'afu 57, Sexton 70
Conversions: Cope 57, 70
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