County glory evades Jersey once again
JERSEY’S decades-long bid to win their first senior Hampshire RFU trophy will have to wait at least another year after serial winners Havant triumphed 33-22 over a Reds Athletic outfit at Hooks Lane.
The semi-final of the Hampshire Challenge Trophy (the renamed competition in which Jersey RFC have lost four finals since the mid 1970s) eventually went the way of the hosts in bright sunshine on their 3G surface.
But Athletic will be wondering what might have been had they capitalised on their first-half showing with a few more points – and kept 15 men on the field for the full 80 minutes of what was a hard, but fairly-fought, semi-final.
Certainly 11 points difference was harsh on Athletic who had registered four tries to their hosts’ three before a final score at the death levelled matters up in that department. However, missing their regular kickers, the Reds scored only one of their four conversions, a late one from replacement Matt Kaye, against 13 points kicked by the hosts’ excellent No 10 Simon Morgan.
Havant deservedly go forward to the final against Eastleigh with high hopes of adding to their record haul of 19 senior county cup wins. The leaders of London I South, rotating some of their squad, will have been delighted with the performance of their back division in particular, with powerful runners in midfield and out wide turning the tide of the match in the second period.
Hampshire rugby has been characterised in the past as being of the stuff-it-up-your-jumper, keep-it-in-the forwards mentality. Real eight-man rugby. But there was little sign of that perhaps outdated view, with Havant looking a truly dangerous side when running with the ball on their pristine surface.
Havant certainly employ a high-tempo approach and that made for an action-packed afternoon, as Athletic are no slouches either.
Havant drew first blood after pushing Jersey back deep in their own half, forcing a penalty that Morgan rattled over the bar for his 200th point of the season – a helpful fact announced over the tannoy. Shame that some of the other announcements were so biased they embarrassed home fans and annoyed visiting ones. A rare false note to the occasion with Havant being excellent hosts.
Athletic’s reply was emphatic and they scored the first of their three first-half tries after a long period of pressure in the left-hand corner, with skipper Tim Corson, later named Jersey’s man of the match by their hosts, blasting through a sea of defenders. A hard-earned try, with Havant defending with commendable gusto – clearly every point would be hard-earned.
Dom Mayo’s difficult conversion failed to bisect the posts, but if his kicking looked a little rusty, his overall play was anything but and his delight at having found a home in the No 12 shirt was clear for all to see.
Mayo increased Athletic’s advantage when he looped out towards the left wing to finish off in the corner a sustained attack of several phases in which full-back Richie Stevens and prop forward Ross Kenwright played big cameos.
Another difficult conversion missed, Jersey led 10-3 and looked capable of building on it.
Their hosts, also enjoying the sun on their backs, made a powerful statement with their first try, combining pace and power to build a position to send Wes Doogan over to the right of the posts. A rare miss from Morgan prevented the score being tied.
Heavy pressure across the park led to desperate defence on Jersey’s right, with Jersey centre Scott McClurg shown the yellow card (the referee unnecessarily being told to do so by the announcer), a fair decision.
Morgan soon put Havant in front for the first time with a penalty in front of the posts, but three minutes later the 14-man visitors shocked their hosts with an electric surge in the right-hand corner – initiated by George Willmott, carried on by Tommy Turner and finished in style by scrum-half Liam Rhodes. The extras failed to materialise and Rhodes was soon needed at the opposite end of the pitch, foiling a blistering attack launched by full-back Rory Penfold by taking the receiving winger into touch.
Jersey led 11-15 at the break, but on their return were soon hit hard with an injury to winger Charlie Hubert as he defended an onslaught from Havant. Morgan reduced Jersey’s lead to one point with another penalty.
The match was on a knife-edge as Jersey, on top in the scrum (though not getting the rewards they felt they deserved), but struggling with Havant’s powerful runners, just denied the home blindside a score by the posts – Harrison Berresford, a lock, kicking clear.
Which way would it go?
A clear indication came on the hour in front of the stand with Jersey’s second sin-binning – a far harsher decision putting lock Euan Spencer out of the action for ten minutes, for a challenge that had the home crowd roaring and the referee acting.
This time being a man down proved too tough a handicap for Athletic and the tie slipped away with two quick tries down the left flank, Wayne Doogan claiming a close range score soon to be followed by a storming effort from Penfold. Morgan converted the first of the two and Havant led 26-15.
It looked grim, but Jersey came again when restored to full strength, young hooker Harry Doolan throwing to line-out jumper Spencer before joining the back of the maul to score in the right-hand corner. Kaye kicked an excellent conversion and at 22-26 down, Jersey needed another try to reach the final.
It looked possible when a penalty set up a Jersey line-out down the left, but fumbled possession set the ball speeding in the opposite direction and it was Havant who ended the day on a high, with a score from James Wise in the opposite corner.
Athletic head coach Myles Landick said: ‘Credit to Havant, they pulled the game away from us. We started really well, but let them back in.
‘We just lost our way a bit and they are a very strong side. They got the crowd behind them and we just were not clinical enough at times. Perhaps we didn’t use our forwards as much as we should have done, but saying that, there were still plenty of positives around today.’
On the yellow cards conceded Landick said: ‘First one is a yellow, the second one is not – but the reality is that we played 20 minutes of a semi-final with just 14 men and that’s always going to be difficult.
‘We didn’t get our conversions either, so that hurt us, but we were always in touch until their late try.
‘We were clearly on the wrong side of the referee today. It’s always tough coming to a place like this. I thought we were due a bit more than we got, but that’s cup rugby – you’ve just got to take it.
‘I told the lads at the end that we’ve got to prepare for Guernsey [Siam Cup] now. Today was a bit of a marker in relation to where we stand – Havant are top of London I South, so with Guernsey being a point off the top of London South East Premier (one division above, formerly called National III), it shows, standard wise, where we are at.’
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