The Reds made a losing start to their 2016/17 British & Irish Cup campaign, going down 19-6 to a powerful Ulster side at the Shaw's Bridge ground in Belfast.
After four successive league defeats, Jersey were looking to return to winning ways in the competition where they were semi-finalists last season; the Northern Irish men had different ideas however, and a strong squad included two internationals returning from injury - 11-times capped lock Dan Tuohy, plus the Ireland and Lions wing Tommy Bowe (pictured below), who has 72 international caps.
There was little to choose between the sides in the first half, which saw the home side score first thanks to a penalty from full-back Johnny McPhillips
The Reds wasted no time in pegging back when Sam Katz responded in kind just two minutes later. Five minutes later the fly-half had another opportunity from 35 metres but saw his effort tail to the left. On 19 minutes however, Katz made no mistake from closer range to put Jersey in front, for what would prove to be the only time in the game.
Ulster 'A' had the first genuine try-scoring opportunity of the evening when Sam Windsor fed Aaron Cairns, but the winger was stopped in the corner by a tremendous tackle from Joel Dudley (pictured below). Sadly the Reds' scrum-half, who made his 50th competitive appearance for the club earlier this month, was injured in the process and soon afterwards had to be replaced by Sami Fisilau.
McPhillips added another penalty on 28 minutes to level the sides as Ulster continued to be frustrated by rugged Jersey defence. Cairns had another chance when he chased a Windsor kick ahead, only to be denied by the bounce of the ball. Shortly before the half-time whistle, several attacking phases forced another penalty that McPhillips slotted over to send Ulster in 9-6 ahead at the break.
McPhillips opened the second half scoring with a 45th minute penalty before Windsor got the game's only try on 51 minutes, courtesy of a perfectly weighted kick through that he chased himself and slid over. McPhillips added the extras to put daylight between the sides at 19-6.
Although there were opportunities for the Reds to add to their points tally, the visitors were unable to execute and were hampered by a failure to secure consistent lineout ball, as well as further injuries to replacement hooker Nick Selway and wing George Watkins. The latter suffered a head injury and his withdrawal after 72 minutes left the Reds to complete the game with 14 men. The Reds had also lost Rich Lane prior to kick-off, with 23rd man Ross Adair called up.
The home side were looking to stretch their lead, and against a less committed side might have sensed the opportunity to get close to a try bonus-point, but Jersey held firm and the final half-hour of the game was scoreless.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon said: "I'm really proud of the way my players conducted themselves - they played with energy, enthusiasm and passion against a really strong side. There were injuries which meant we had to problem-solve on the pitch, but they really stepped up."
Although the Reds lost their opening B&I game for the first time in five seasons in the cross-border competition, they will be hoping that similar resolve will pave the way for a good result in round two. This will take place under lights at St Peter on Friday evening, when the Cardiff Blues Premiership Select side will visit the Island. Kick-off at St Peter is at 7.45pm.
The Blues lost their opening pool 1 encounter on Saturday, defeated 21-26 at Cardiff Arms Park by London Scottish, who the Reds will meet in back-to-back Cup encounters in December.
Ulster 'A': McPhillips; Bowe, Windsor, Best, Cairns; Herron (Smith 68), Shanahan (Lloyd 68); Simpson (O'Hagan 57), Andrew (Murphy 51), Lutton, Tuohy (capt), Treadwell, Mulholland (Donnan 57), Joyce (Timoney 68), Dow. Unused replacement: Kelly
Jersey Reds: Cuthbert; Watkins, Davies, Eastwell, Adair; Katz (Robling 55), Dudley (Fisilau 25); McCarthy (Woolmore 54), Macfarlane (Selway 33-70), Tampin (Armstrong 54), Campbell, Voss, Freeman (capt) (Argyle 60), Doyle, Haining (Kolo'ofa'i 54).
REFEREE: Dewi Phillips (WRU). Assistants: Jonny Erskine (IRFU) & Ron Watson (IRFU)
Half Time: 9-6
Man-of-the-match (chosen by match sponsor CD Group): Aaron Cairns (Ulster 'A')
Try: Windsor 51
Conversion: McPhillips 51
Penalties: McPhillips 10, 28, 38, 45
Penalties: Katz 12,19
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