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Reds impress in pre-season Vannes win

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AS pre-season friendlies go, Saturday’s opening match for Jersey Reds and RC Vannes, was a pretty impressive one, particularly for the hosts who won 27-17.

There certainly appeared to be far fewer errors, individually and collectively, than you would expect from two squads trying out a host of new players for the first time, with Jersey giving debuts to a dozen of their 16 new signings.

Little surprise then that Jersey’s backroom staff found it difficult not to smile at the final whistle, which signalled a three-tries to two, ten-point victory. And that over a side that handed them a heavy defeat in France at this stage last season, despite the Reds going on to record their best-ever Championship campaign.

It was a full-on affair, apart from a temporary lull after the break, with several heated exchanges underlying the importance of a good performance to the individual, but it was the technique and skill level under pressure which stood out, with only the odd mishap at a lineout, or fluffed pass, to remind the 801 crowd that this was still only the 28th of July.

The summer training has clearly gone well. Partnerships and general understanding were well advanced, as well as impressive cohesion in the pack, particularly in the second half, when Jersey tore into the French side after changing all but three of the starting XV.

Vannes, from France’s powerful second tier, did the same, so it was in many ways, two games for the price of one: Vannes gaining a 10-10 first half draw with a late seven points from a penalty try and the hosts winning the second 17-7.

Jersey stand-off Brett Herron, played in ‘both’ and impressed, with the odd loose kick not deterring him one jot from mixing up territorial kicking with a passing game. He also added two conversions and a penalty with an assured boot, but it was his clear thinking that provided Jersey with their first try of the season that stands out.

Jersey trailed 3-0 after a forceful start from Vannes was defended well, bar the concession of a central penalty that Hilsenbeck smashed through the posts. But the Reds responded well and when newcomer Charlie Beckett took a lineout despite being hauled down illegally, they used the advantage well, with Herron hoisting a kick towards the Vannes posts for his centres to chase, with James Newey touching down, despite a bad bounce making him have to round an upright to do so.

Herron extended Jersey’s lead with an excellent penalty from distance on 22 minutes, easier early awards having been spurned in the chase for tries.

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Jersey’s ball retention was already becoming a pleasing feature and the home side perhaps should have extended their advantage when a rare error prevented Newey getting the ball out wide for Josh Hodson who looked well set to cross over in the Scoreboard Corner.

The Reds continued to press and good work from Beckett, new captain Roy Godfrey, Max Argyle and extremely lively scrum-half Hilton Mudariki nearly brought them a deserved reward. But the opportunities went begging and it was the French who snatched parity at half-time with a lineout maul resulting in a penalty try being awarded by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys a regular visitor at Stade Santander.

Jersey’s much-changed second-half team set off like a rocket, with Rory Bartle held up over the line, and another ‘score’ by the posts brought back for an infringement.

Adam Batt, George Eastwell, Graham Geldenhuys and Will Homer were showing up well, but in truth most of the team were impressing, particularly the pack.

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And it was from that source that Jersey secured victory with two forays down their left, towards the Bowl Corner, reaping 14 points, with hooker Jake Macfarlane scoring the first and the second being a penalty try.

A rare switch-off from an otherwise impressive Jersey defence allowed Vannes’ flanker Picault to drift over in the Pavillion Corner with ten mintes left, but a home victory was not to be denied and a ten-point margin was the least the new-look Reds deserved.

Said head coach Harvey Biljon: ‘As coaches we said we would find out a lot about the players today. I think we’ve seen that all the work that has been put in has paid off and I’m pleased with the way the players fronted up.

‘But I’m not getting carried away – there’s a long way to go yet, this is just the first pre-season friendly.’

On Herron’s performance he said: ‘We’re trying to find a balance between run and kick, so hopefully we can build on today as the season goes on.

‘The pack’s performance was a good starting point as well, make no mistake. But there’s lots of opportunities that we must become ruthless on taking.’

‘There were lots of players putting their hand up today, which is important, and we’re going to find out a lot more as we go into the Harlequins and Old Elthamians matches.

‘And fair play to Vannes they gave us a good test from a defensive point of view.’

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