Despite the win, the Jersey RFC’s director of rugby, Dai Burton, looked back ruefully at September’s loss to London Irish Amateurs, now bottom of the league, as the key match in the club’s attempt to win promotion this season.
‘We treated it as a touring weekend,’ he explained, ‘but that one game looks to have cost us promotion.
Depending on the results of the last match this season, our aim must be to finish either first or second next year.’ If Jersey don’t finish second, behind Sutton and Epsom, it won’t be for the want of trying and against a well-organised Maidstone they had to play to all their strengths to conjure up a win having gone into the interval 12-7 down.
Playing into the breeze, they enjoyed most of the possession in the first half before, 13 minutes into the game, they lost the ball and allowed Maidstone’s tricky No 10 to side-step his way past a slow Jersey defence before setting up his captain, at centre, for a clear run for the line.
The fly-half converted.
Three minutes later Jersey drew level when a scrum five yards out from the Maidstone line saw No 8 Latu Maka’afi pick up the ball to crash over.
Graham Smith converted.
At 7-7 and playing ‘cavalier rugby’, as Burton described it, Jersey then allowed Maidstone to go back in front when they took advantage of slack defensive play when a dropped ball at full-back saw their No 10 pick up and glide through before passing to his No 8, who stole over.
The conversion was missed but at half-time Maidstone were 12-7 to the good.
However, after a pep talk about a game which Jersey seemed destined to throw away by being far too ambitious, plus changes in the front row, Jersey emerged for the second half in a very different mood.
Their scrummaging became tighter and they won good, clean ball at the line-out.
They were immediately rewarded when hooker Nathan Kemp broke free of several tackles before feeding the ball to Smith, who crossed the line.
Smith also converted.
Now 14-12 ahead, Jersey continued to apply forward pressure and they deserved their next score, following a pick up and drive at the line-out when Ian Henderson won the ball and passed it to Kemp, who from eight yards out ran over.
Despite the missed conversion Jersey were now ahead 19-12, and although Maidstone rallied, and scored a fine converted try of their own, which saw the score settle at 19-19, the visiting side were the better team during the last phase of the game and flanker Graham Bell’s try mid-way through the second half following another catch and drive from the line-out put the game a try and a conversion ahead of the Kent side.
With only a few minutes remaining Maidstone could have earned a draw, following a fumbled pass and interception by the home side’s centre, but the referee brought both teams back for a previous offence, which effectively sealed the game for Jersey and gave them the two points they needed to go joint third, with Old Colfeians, who lost 39-5 to lowly Tunbridge Wells.
Thanet Wanderers are now second, after beating Wimbledon 26-21, which means that despite winning 13 of their last 14 games, Jersey look destined to fall short of promotion this season.
That defeat, early on in the season, to London Irish Amateurs, who have only won twice all season, has cost the Island side dear.
‘We’ve picked ourselves up and played some good rugby this season, but if we genuinely want promotion,we’ve got to win our first half-dozen games next season,’ said Burton.
‘We’ve got to start winning from the very first kick-off.’ Other results: Beckenham 38, Sevenoaks 7; London Irish Amateur 12.
Lewes 34; Tunbridge Wells 39, Old Colfeians 5; Wimbledon 21, Thanet Wanderers 26.
Collins Stewart squad: Marcus Nobes, Nathan Kemp, Jim Brimelow, Ian Henderson, Roger Quirk, Kern Yayes, Latu Maka’afi, Graham Bell, Dave Miles, Graham Smith, Ryan Morgan, Mark White, Jason Hosty, Richie Stevens, Steve O’Brien, Josh Chamier, Jon Allo, Ross Kenwright, Mark Le Mottée.