Agony follows ecstacy as Reds fall just short
JERSEY’S last-ever crack at the British and Irish Cup will long be remembered for the shock-like state of the home crowd and team alike at the final whistle.
Sport, particularly among professionals, has long been underpinned by a ‘play to the final whistle’ mentality . . . but the manner of the last-gasp defeat to Leinster A at Stade Santander on a hot April afternoon stretched levels of anguish, frustration and even belief, way past breaking point.
Saddest of all for Harvey Biljon’s Reds is that their superb performance for the first 75 minutes of this semi-final, will forever be a side-note beneath the three converted tries a seemly dead and about-to-be-buried Irish side rammed home to clinch victory with the final kick of the match from full-back Ciarán Frawley.
The dramatic moments flowed freely on a day that had everything a sports fan could want (and several they didn’t want).
Where to begin? Leinster outscored Jersey by four tries to three (still difficult to comprehend, that one), while the excellent stand-off Cope, in his final home match for the Reds, kicked three conversions and two penalties against Fawley’s first-half penalty and three late conversions.
Those are the headline stats, but so much more was going on to put meat on bone . . . so much incredible effort. Jersey’s pack were immense, particularly in the scrum where they eventually forced WRU offficial Ian Davies to get his card out after six penalties were conceded in the first-half alone.
The first 35 minutes were scoreless, but far from boring, as a fast tempo was set and maintained. The home pack were, gradually, but surely, gaining the upper hand around the park. Tiny errors occasionally undid the good work, but a score was coming.
That only came, though after Leinster were eventually punished in the pack, with Ed Byrne seeing yellow after a ruck violation then fellow prop Vakh Abdaladze joining him in the bin for a scrum infringement.
With a two-man advantage Jersey wasted no time in getting the ball out of the scrum by the posts, with half-back Hardy firing a long pass to winger Tom Pincus who opened the scoring in the Airport Corner.
Cope was meticulous with his conversion and a 7-0 was the least Jersey deserved. Yet the unpredictability of the game was highlighted when one of Jersey’s most consistent performers, Hardy, dropped a hopeful high-kick deep in his 22, with Leinster eventually forcing a penalty from the restart. A lead of just four points would have been paltry reward for the first half, but Jersey’s top two performers were on hand to rectify that in style. Centre Apakuki Ma’fau was in awesome form and he won possession from the restart to set a fluid attack in motion across to the left; back across to the right, Ma’fau took the ball on, broke the line and fed Hardy inside for a close range score, again near the Airport Corner. Cope kicked the conversion, with the crowd observing total silence – which they did for all the kicks. It was a feel-good occasion.
Jersey lost the immense contribution Ma’fau was bringing to the game when he suffered a neck injury which, although dealt with quickly, still led to a long disruption in play.
Jersey were maintaining their high-tempo gain, with Cope providing their next reward after heavy pressure was repelled once again, in the form of a central penalty – 14-3 and looking good. Cope was on hand to relieve a sticky moment in defence soon afterwards as Leinster flanker Peadar Timmins roared through a gap.
The benches were starting to empty as the heat and pace of the game took its toll, particularly on the big men. Cope increased the lead with a penalty on the visitors’ 22 as Jersey pushed forward.
Leinster brought the crowd back to a semblance of reality when Timmins found (relatively) acres of space out wide to score in the Airport Corner. Now 20-8, Jersey needed a response to quell the Irishmen, and it came on 67 minutes when Jerry Sexton, working like a Trojan, won a lineout which helped set the ball wide to Scott Van Breda who found the flying Worrall for a great try in the Scoreboard Corner.
Cope kicked an excellent conversion, Jersey led 27-8 – and Leinster looked rattled and ragged.
As the clocked ticked onwards there was no sign of the drama to come. All the Jersey bench was on as they pushed for a seemingly inevitable victory.
A chance to go 22 points clear, from a difficult long-range Van Breda penalty, went begging, but few in the crowd would have thought that a vital moment . . . until the final whistle.
The last five minutes saw Jersey tire, both physically and perhaps mentally. Reduced to 14 as replacement scrum-half Joel Dudley was helped off the pitch with a leg injury, Leinster were given a further spark of hope when Fawley charged down a clearance to score in the Bowl Corner. He converted it himself, but few in the crowd were seriously considering anything but a Jersey victory.
Probably the best defensive side in the Championship would surely see the game through. But no . . . Leinster sensed Jersey legs and more had gone and went for the throat. Replacement scrum-half Will O’Sullivan scooted over, doubtless aided by Dudley’s absence; Frawley converts and realisation dawns that this could end badly, with the scoreboard showing Jersey’s lead down to 27-22. Time was now spent, but Leinster had possession and a penalty to the corner led to mauled try claimed by replacement Will Connors, tight in the Airport Corner.
27-all! But with the home crowd now hoping for extra time, Frawley sent over a superb conversion to clinch an astonishing victory.
While Leinster ‘A’ progress to a final against Ealing Trailfinders, comfortable 36-16 winners over Bedford Blues (with Blues skipper and Jerseyman Michael Le Bourgeois getting a late try consolation) Jersey will need to lift themselves one more time in the Championship against Doncaster this Saturday.
Jersey Reds 27
Tries: Pincus 36, Hardy 40, Worrall 67
Cons: Cope 36, 40, 67
Pens: Cope 50, 61
Leinster A 29
Tries: Timmins 64, Frawley 75, O’Sullivan 79, Connors 82
Cons: Frawley 75, 79, 82
Pen: Frawley 38
Attendance: 1,837 HT: 14-3
Man of the match: Ciaràn Frawley (Leinster ‘A’)
JEP men of the match: Kieran Hardy/Apakuki Ma’afu (both Jersey)
Referee: Ian Davies; Assistants: Gareth Newman and Jason Bessant (all WRU).
JERSEY REDS: Jake Woolmore (co-captain, Roy Godfrey 56), Nick Selway (Jared Saunders 47), Jake Armstrong (Leeroy Atalifo 54), Jerry Sexton, Rory Bartle (Uili Kolo’ofa’i 58), Max Argyle (Upfield 66), Conor Joyce, Matt Rogerson; Kieran Hardy (Joel Dudley 70), Brendan Cope; Jason Worrall, Mark Best, Apakuki Ma’afu (George Eastwell 47), Tom Pincus, Scott Van Breda (co-captain).
Leinster A: Ed Byrne (YC 29), Bryan Byrne (c) (Sean McNulty 69), Vakh Abdaladze (YC 32, Peter Dooley 17), Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle (Oisin Dowling 58-61), Josh Murphy, Peadar Timmins, Caelan Doris (Will Connors 56); Charlie Rock (O’Sullivan 69), Cathal Marsh (Jack Kelly 55); Tommy O’Brien, Conor O’Brien, Gavin Mullin (Tom Daly 51), Adam Byrne, Ciarán Frawley.