Locked together with their hosts after the clock at Stade de la Rabine had reached 80 minutes on Friday night, the Reds launched a superb counter-attack to advance the full length of the field, only for Ryan Olowofela to narrowly fail to reach a kick ahead by Scott Van Breda.
Biljon was disappointed that the win eluded his side, claiming a penalty try for a push on Olowofela, but his main sentiment was satisfaction in making a positive start to a tough pre-season campaign.
‘We could have finished the game and taken the draw, but we went all out to win it and that shows the attitude and character of this group,’ he said.
‘Vannes is a pretty intimidating place to play. The supporters create a fantastic atmosphere with their drums and really get behind the team so we should take some confidence from the way we responded.’
The crowd of almost 3,000 became particularly animated during the closing stages as both teams pressed to score the ninth try of the contest and break the deadlock.
The game was also remarkable for the senior debut of homegrown talent in hooker Harry Doolan.
The home side eschewed a potential winning penalty kick in pursuit of a try, but could not execute the maul and then the Reds launched a penalty towards halfway to set up the move that saw Olowofela go close. Even then, Vannes tried to counter from behind their posts but were eventually forced into touch and the final whistle blew.
The hosts struck early through a try from Ambrose Curtis and, although the Reds levelled when Olowofela latched onto a cross-field kick from Brendan Cope, further tries by Sacha Valleau and Grégoire Bazin gave Vannes a 21-7 lead at the break.
There were points in the first period when the larger home pack, playing their second and final match of pre-season, threatened to dominate their opponents, but there were no backward steps from the Reds.
Front row duo Harry Doolan and Huw Owen stood up strongly on their debuts and there was also strong carrying from Macauley Cook, Tim Grey and skipper Lewis Wynne.
Although they had limited opportunities, the Reds’ backline looked sharp, fired by the lively James Elliott from scrum-half and with good ground gained by Jack Roberts in midfield and Olowofela out wide.
An early penalty try after the resumption gave the visitors hope, but the Breton side restored their 14-point lead on the hour when Jeremy Jordaan powered through.
Both sides made multiple replacements at half-time and during the second period, with three more new signings making their Reds’ debut off the bench and a return to Jersey colours for Guy Thompson after eight years. The visitors were the livelier of the two sides and certainly seemed to surpass the fitness levels of their opponents.
After a counter-attack inspired by Van Breda’s kick-chase, Ciaran Parker went over from close range for Jersey’s third, and then, with eight minutes to play, Bader Pretorius scored in the corner and added an excellent touchline conversion to tie the match.
Biljon was pleased with the performance against a well-resourced side who were narrowly defeated in the Pro D2 play-offs last season and retain ambitions to reach the top flight. But the director of rugby was also conscious of the main aim of pre-season.
‘We’ll be facing some real tests, with Vannes followed by Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks. These are teams who’ll play with intensity, physicality and speed,’ he said. ‘It’s all about the squad gelling together and being ready to go against London Scottish when the Championship season starts.’
The Reds face Leicester Tigers at Stade Santander International this Friday, with a 5pm kick-off marking the start of the bank-holiday weekend for Island rugby supporters.
Vannes (15-9, 1-8): Borie; Curtis, Valleau, Symons, Gratien; Hilsenbeck (c), Saseras; Bordelai, Béziat, Kité, Barry, Edwards, Picault, Bazin, Boulier. Replacements: Abraham, Blanchard, Tafili, O’Shea, Leroux, Iachizzi, Jordaan, Pagès, Etienne, Duplenne, Burgaud, Holder, Vérité, Dumas, Leafa, Desjeux, Viboni, Paige, Troin, Ah You.
Jersey Reds (15-9, 1-8): Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Jack Roberts, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown; Brendan Cope, James Elliott; Huw Owen, Harry Doolan, Jack Higgins, Max Ayling, Macauley Cook, Alex Humfrey, Lewis Wynne (c), Tim Grey. Replacements: Jack Macfarlane, James Flynn, Roy Godfrey, Ciaran Parker, Zak Farrance, Sean O’Connor, Wesley White, Guy Thompson, Max Argyle, James Mitchell, Bader Pretorius, Scott Van Breda. Unused: Eoghan Clarke, Will Lane.
Referee: Aurélie Groizeleau (FFR)