Jersey Reds 31
Tries: Olowofela 8, Longwell 25, Cook 33, Holgate 37, Owen B 74
Conversions: Pittman 33, 37, 74
London Scottish 13
Try: Selway 50
Conversion: Sheppard 50
Penalties: Sheppard 11, 15
Player of the match: Macauley Cook
ANOTHER five points tacked onto Jersey Reds’ Championship tally represented a job well done for Harvey Biljon’s side.
The Reds avoided a festive banana skin against basement side London Scottish and in doing so moved up to second in the league table, a point ahead of the Cornish Pirates and two behind leaders Ealing Trailfinders.
All of the top three have now played the same number of games, with each having had one fixture called off as a result of Covid-19: Reds’ game at Nottingham earlier this month and – on Saturday – Pirates’ visit to Richmond and Ealing’s game at Hartpury, the latter at only a few hours’ notice.
It remains to be seen what effect the ‘Omicron wave’ will have on rugby over the coming weeks, with concern that there could be disruption to a festive schedule that includes the Reds’ trip to Bedford on Boxing Day and the Trailfinders v Pirates encounter on New Year’s Day.
To their credit, the Jersey starting XV were entirely focused on the job in hand when they took to the field at Stade Santander International on a sunny but cold winter’s afternoon.
The original line-up wasn’t intact for long, as hooker Eoghan Clarke trudged off within five minutes for a head injury assessment that ended up preventing his return. Cue 19-year-old Harry Doolan coming on and determined to show he can mix it at this level after two fleeting appearances as a replacement.
One of Doolan’s first duties was at a lineout on halfway, and a short throw to James Flynn at the front saw the ball immediately into the hands of scrum-half James Elliott.
The Reds’ back-line was primed for action, with Dan Barnes as first receiver and then fly-half Tom Pittman, another getting an opportunity at the start after several appearances off the bench. Pittman’s flat pass was taken by Jordan Holgate, who spun a full turn as he took the ball and broke through. A try was on the cards, but needed a well-timed pass from Holgate and pace on the outside from Ryan Olowofela – it got both, and the home side were on the board after eight minutes.
The visitors were competitive during the opening quarter and took the lead with two well-struck penalties by Harry Sheppard from the same patch of grass just inside the Reds’ 10-metre line.
Gradually the Reds began to exert pressure, although some chances were spurned, including Pittman twice missing touch with penalty kicks. But when he did hit his target, the Jersey lineout was functioning well and this set up a mauled try, finished by Steve Longwell to restore the lead.
Having previously failed to translate pressure into points, the Reds broke clear with two tries in four minutes just before half-time. A jinking run by Olowofela created the first, finished thanks to good support from Macauley Cook, and then some close-range bursts saw Max Argyle feed Holgate for a try. Two Pittman conversions meant the home side were 24-6 ahead at the break, a bonus point already secured.
As with the home match against Coventry the previous weekend, the Reds couldn’t quite maintain their momentum after the break, but at least were tight enough in defence not to allow their opponents back into the game.
There was one try for the visitors, as former Red Nick Selway finished off a rolling maul in front of the marquee, but for the most part the Jersey side were able to control the game, with a committed effort from the forwards, including a lively stint from replacement Wes White in the back row.
The Exiles’ scrum was gradually worked over and worn down via a series of scrums that saw multiple penalties conceded and a yellow card for replacement prop Alex Gibson within four minutes of coming on. The pressure was kept up and eventually the ball was spun wide by the Reds, with replacement Ioan Davies getting a touch on debut to deliver a scoring pass to Brendan Owen for a try in the corner.
Jersey Reds (1-15): James Flynn (Huw Owen 62), Eoghan Clarke (Harry Doolan 5), Steve Longwell (Jack Higgins 74), Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook (Tom Everard 74), Alex Humfrey (Wes White 51), Lewis Wynne (capt), Max Argyle; James Elliott (James Mitchell 68), Tom Pittman; Will Brown, Jordan Holgate, Dan Barnes (Jack Roberts 35), Ryan Olowofela (Ioan Davies 62); Brendan Owen.
London Scottish (1-15): Curtis Reynolds (Lefty Zigiriadis 51), Nick Selway (capt), Joe Rees (Alex Gibson 68, Y 72), James Tyas, Edoardo Balocco (Ehize Ehizode 51), Tom Baldwin (Jack Ingall 44), Brian Tuilagi (Cameron King 57), Harry Wilson; Dan Nutton (Laurence May 44), Harry Sheppard; David Halaifonua, Javiah Pohe, Sam Hanks (Tom Georgiou 51), Noah Ferdinand; Leo Fielding.
Other results: Ampthill 20-15 Nottingham; Doncaster 31-9 Coventry; Hartpury P-P Ealing; Richmond P-P Cornish Pirates.