Jersey Reds claimed a famous win in Moscow, defeating the Russian national side ahead of their trip to the Rugby World Cup.
The visitors scored five tries to four and withstood some considerable second-half pressure to retain their lead against the side ranked 20th in the World Rugby rankings. The Russians will face hosts Japan, Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in the World Cup, while the Reds prepare for their eighth campaign in the Greene King IPA Championship.
The match was billed as a test match by the hosts, who played their national anthem immediately after the strains of Man bieau p’tit Jèrri had floated across the Slava Stadium.
On a still, dry evening, the Reds weathered some early pressure, not helped by a stream of penalties against them. But on their first serious visit to Russian territory, the visitors struck, with some forward thrusts and then superb quick hands to the left flank, where Leroy Van Dam hared over.
The Reds took great confidence and some fine counter-rucking from skipper Apakuki Ma’afu and Kyle Hatherell sparked a penalty and another territorial gain. The Red scrum was performing well and may have won a penalty award, but in the event scrum-half Luc Jones produced a solo effort. Playing against the side coached by his father, he picked up from the base of the scrum just outside the 22, raced forward, chipped over and won the race to touch down.
Fly-half Greg Dyer had converted the first two tries, and soon got his name on the board again. After ripping the ball from a maul and sprinting towards the line, the New Zealander followed up to win an attacking scrum for his side. The ball was spun out by Jones and Dyer wriggled over the line.
The hosts were rocked to find themselves 21 points down, and responded with a spell of pressure that culminated in fly-half Sergei Ianiushkin going over for a score. It was a try the hosts desperately needed, although Ianiushkin was disappointed to push a straightforward conversion wide of the right-hand upright.
The visitors struck back on their next visit to the Russian half thanks to a powerful run to the line from Ma’afu, but the Russians had the last word before half-time. The visiting defence had been solid, but it was breached by a superb attacking line from winger Denis Simplevich, who raced towards the corner flag. Great covering work by Jones brought the Russian down a few metres short but he popped the ball to his opposite wing Vladislav Sozonov who dotted down. Ianiushkin converted well to make it 12-28 at the break.
Home hopes of getting back into the game suffered an early blow with a yellow card to flanker Roman Khodin for a late charge on Dyer as the latter cleared his lines. The Reds were on the defensive for the early stages of the half, but good work at maul and scrum time helped neuter the Russian threat.
A turnover on halfway sparked the Reds’ fifth try – the ball popped back to Auguy Slowik who immediately sensed a chance to break clear, and had the pace to back his hunch and score in the corner.
On the hour, replacement hooker Evgeni Matveev finished a maul, and the Reds knew the job wasn’t finished yet, although a high tackle on Leroy Van Dam brought a second yellow card for the hosts, this time for Nikita Vavilin, and made their job harder.
The Reds defence held firm until Sale Sharks’ lock Andrei Ostrikov ploughed over from close range for his side’s fourth try, but replacement scrum-half Yuri Kushnarev missed both his conversion attempts and that meant the Reds were still 13 clear thanks to Dyer’s 100% record from the tee.
The final stages were all pressure for Russians, but the Jersey defensive wall was solid, even when Mark Best saw yellow for tackling a man in the air. His colleagues redoubled their efforts, tackled like demons in a game that was physical throughout. Eventually the Russians ran out of time, and ideas, and the Reds were able to celebrate a famous victory.
Andrei Polivalov, Sergei Chernyshev, Azamet Bitiev, Evgeny Elgin, Andrei Garbuzov, Anton Sychev, Roman Khodin (YC 46), Victor Gresev (capt); Dmitry Perov, Sergei Ianiushkin; Denis Simplikevich, Dmitry Gerasimov, Igor Galinovsky, Vladislav Sozonov; German Godlyuk.
Replacements: Vasily Artemyev, Vladamir Ostroushko, Kirill Golonitsky, Ramil Gaisin, Valery Morozov, Stanislav Selsky, Kirill Gotovtsev, German Davydov, Andrei Ostrikov, Nikita Vavilin (YC 66), Tagir Gadzhiev, Evgeny Matveev, Vladimir Podrezov, Bogdan Fedotko, Vitaly Zhivatov, Vasily Dorofeev, Yuri Kushnarev.
Jersey Reds (1-15)
Roy Godfrey, TJ Harris, Zei Alexis, Charlie Beckett, Alex Thompson, Rory Bartle, Josh Bainbridge, Kyle Hatherell; Luc Jones, Greg Dyer; Leroy Van Dam, Apakuki Ma’afu (capt), James Newey, Auguy Slowik; Tom Williams.
Replacements: Jack Macfarlane, Harry Morley, Alec Clarey, Conor Joyce, Jake Upfield, Max Argyle; Will Homer, Mark Best (YC 78), George Spencer, Jack Stapley
Referee: Alexei Lebedev
Tries: Ianiushkin 34, Sozonov 40, Matveev 61, Ostrikov 70
Conversions: Ianiushkin 40
Tries: Van Dam 14, Jones 19, Dyer 26, Ma’afu 38, Slowik 54
Conversions: Dyer 14, 19, 26, 38, 54