IF victories over two higher-ranked clubs in pre-season were not sufficient, a strong statement was certainly sent out by Jersey RFC on their debut in the seventh tier of English rugby.
Fifty points on the opening day of Counties 1 Hampshire, featuring eight tries from eight different scorers, kick-started a campaign that will likely provide many more wins than losses and left visitors Havant a little stunned.
The Island’s current crop of amateurs, who beat Oxford Quins and Norwich RFC in pre-season, began a new era for both themselves and the club at St Peter on Saturday, albeit via a return to the league system that the Jersey RFC of old had powered through before their switch to Jersey Reds.
A split from the professional club, and subsequent summer rebranding, has taken them back to their roots. They have readopted their historic name, but the appealing brand of rugby enforced by head coach Myles Landick has remains unchanged.
George Willmott, Mark Boarer, Dom Mayo and Daniel Butler-Hawkes all crossed over to secure the bonus point before half time, and a further four followed after the break, courtesy of captain Tim Corson, Charlie Hubert, Andrew Pitcher and teenage winger Dylan Stocks.
And it could have been more.
‘We could really have put our foot on the gas had we been consistent,’ Landick explained. ‘I said to the boys at the end, “how ruthless could we have been had we not given so many penalties away?”. At times our defence was really good. We’d go ten, 12 phases with good defence but then creep offside when they were not necessarily a threat to us.
‘We’ve got to be professional and consistent with our performances. It’s no good putting in a performance like this now and then going away next week and struggling.’
The hosts surged to a 17-0 lead inside the opening 30 minutes but they were handed a warning shot before the break, as Havant responded for 17-5.
Jersey would increase their advantage to 17 again before half time and the majority of the second period was all theirs.
Havant struck first following the interval – under the posts after a central break and offload – but Corson replied immediately for 29-12 after Hubert had jinked clear.
With the crowd’s cheers and players’ calls being drowned out by the jet engines of the departing Red Arrows across the road, the visitors continued to show quick hands and broke the line on a couple of occasions, but end product was lacking. Solid defence deep in Jersey territory ended with the Caesareans being awarded a penalty and the resulting lineout, on halfway, almost provided another score.
Two passes, via former professional Roy Godfrey, released Michael Harman but his canter down the left was pushed into touch as he attempted to touch down.
They would not have to wait long to move into a 34-12 lead, though, with Hubert finding the left-hand corner after a quick move from right to left.
Replacement hooker Pitcher – one of just three permitted substitutes, under league rules – crossed for 43-12 within 90 seconds of the restart and Stocks rounded off the rout following a silky move involving Mayo and Boarer.
The fixture followed a two-minute silence, in honour of Queen Elizabeth II and Christelle Mangematin, the much-loved Jersey Reds Women team manager and former player, who passed away earlier this month.
‘There was a nice moment at the start, where you could really see everyone taking it in and honouring the both of them,’ said Landick. ‘That was pleasing to see and we had a good crowd too, of around 300 or so. Hopefully that will keep building.’