A disciplined Reds side kept their cool in a niggly contest that ultimately hinged on three Bedford sin-binnings, including the dismissal of flanker Justin Blanchet.
Bedford: Piers O’Conor, Pat Tapley, Michael Le Bourgeois (Steffan Jones 71), Tom Griffiths, Sam Blanchet (Henry Staff 61), Myles Dorrian, Peter White (Jordan Burns 56), Camilo Parilli-Ocampo (James Currie 50), Charlie Clare (Sam James 60), Biyi Alo (Hayden Thompson-Stringer 50), Paul Tupai, Harry Wells, Justin Blanchet, Josh Buggea (Joel Conlon 56), Nick Fenton-Wells (C).
Jersey (15-9/1-8): Ross Adair, Tom Howe, Oliver Evans, Mark Cooke, Richard Lane, Brendan Cope (Rhys Owen 80+3), Sami Fisilau (Moates 61), Sam Lockwood (Sean McCarthy 66), Martin Garcia-Veiga (Nick Selway), Simon Kerrod (Danny Herriott 55), Nick Campbell, Uili Kolo’ofai (Dave Markham 72), Alex Rae (C), James Freeman, Nick Haining (Tommy Spinks 71).
Thrilled Jersey boss Harvey Biljon said: ‘I’ll tell you what, I don’t think anyone who’s looking at the league table or knows the Championship would have expected that today. Goldington Road is a very, very difficult place to come and get a win. We did it two-and-a-bit years ago to stay in the Championship and to do it again today it was a very, very good performance.’
Victory narrowed the gap on fourth-placed Bedford to 11 points and, on whether his side can still make the play-offs, Biljon continued: ‘We’ve not looked at play-off positions. The players have set their own goals for the remaining games of the season.
‘What really excites us about the run-in of the season is, if you look at the next six league games, four of those are at home for us and that’s what excites us.
‘We just want to make sure we can continue to put on home performances in front of our home supporters and if we get that right, let’s see what happens, other things will take care of themselves.’
Bedford had looked on course for victory as they dominated the early stages, despite good defence from the visitors, and led 12-0 at the break.
Paul Tupai was driven over the line for an unconverted try on 12 minutes, while the ball proceeded to spend plenty of time in the air. Props Sam Lockwood and Biyi Alo clashed and Nick Haining was also penalised after scrapping with an opponent in what proved the start of a niggly contest.
At 5-0 down Jersey pressed hard, but Uili Kolo’ofai’s knock-on handed Bedford back possession. Playing with typical abandon Myles Dorrian and Peter White led a brilliant Bedford counter before the break and the ball somehow fell to Tom Griffiths who spotted a gap and scampered through unopposed to lay the ball under the posts in the 39th-minute with Dorrian adding the simplest of conversions.
However, both Justin Blanchet and Tupai were sin-binned before the break, allowing Jersey to battle back.
‘To be honest we felt pretty hard done by in that first half,’ revealed Biljon. ‘We felt a try came from nothing and a couple decisions really went against us.
‘At half time I didn’t really need to say too much to be honest with you, it was making sure we could control the pitch, get in the right areas and make sure we could start turning those scoring opportunities into points.
‘The boys were pretty fired up. I think a couple of the Bedford players had got under our players’ skins and when one or two players get spat at you can’t help but get emotionally charged and our boys were pretty emotionally charged in our changing rooms and they thoroughly deserve coming out and putting on a second half performance like that.’
Steepling kicks were exchanged at the start of the second half and, after winning a penalty, Jersey finally got themselves on the scoresheet. A powerful maul carried them to within striking distance and scrum-half Sami Fisilau made the break and his pass put in the overlapping Tom Howe to run round and touchdown close to the posts three minutes in, with Brendan Cope converting.
A Dorrian penalty drifted wide, before another Bedford infringement at the breakdown enabled Cope to narrow the difference to two points with just 10 minutes played.
Dorrian made amends with a superb 55th-minute drop-goal, but the Islanders were dangerous with ball in hand and, after Howe had tested the Bedford backline, Fisilau was able to force his way over from close range just before the hour with Cope’s conversion giving them the lead for the first time.
Patient Bedford edged themselves in front once more through Dorrian’s penalty with nine minutes to go, but this game was far from over.
Full-back Ross Adair was allowed far too much room as he almost skipped through, while Bedford’s pack continued to do a fantastic job of disrupting the Islanders’ lineout.
With eight minutes to go the game swung the Islanders way as Justin Blanchet was sent off for a second yellow card for a late tackle. A scrum penalty then allowed Cope to put Jersey ahead with just a minute of normal time left.
Blues continued to test the Jersey defence, but fumbled at the vital moment and, as they continued to turn the screw, Richard Lane was able to intercept and gallop three-quarters of the field in the eighth minute of stoppage time to score Jersey’s third try and end the contest. However, Mark Cooke’s conversion fell short as Jersey failed to deny Bedford a valuable losing bonus point.
Biljon was delighted with his side’s defensive efforts at the death, saying: ‘Being able to defend under pressure right up until the end there in what was always a two/three point game (was great). We’ve worked really hard and I think the players deserved their defensive record and they wanted to make sure in that second half they could make sure they could follow through and they definitely did that.
‘We’ve spoken as a team about 80-minute performances, we’ve spoken about changing gear, we’ve been speaking about maybe we can control the tempo of the game in the second half. We’ve put a couple of strategies in place, just to make sure we keep to accuracy, we stick to task and those seem to be working, also not to mention Jim Maloney who has done a fantastic job with our S&C which keeps us going.’
Intriguingly the pair meet again in just a few weeks when the Islanders return to Goldington Road in the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup under Friday Night Lights.
And Biljon is expecting Blues director of rugby Mike Rayer to have his side fired up, adding: ‘The first thing Mike said to me when we said well done to each other after the game was see you in a couple of weeks. So I know Mike’s going to be getting them pretty revved up for the game in a couple of weeks with the B&I Cup.
”Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s enjoy this game, let’s build on our next home game and then we will see what we can do in the B&I Cup. It’s the first time for Jersey in a knockout stage of a competition, so let’s enjoy it as much as we can.’