A never before scene of Island sporting success

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BEAUTIFUL, beautiful sport.

From arriving at a full to bursting Stade Santander and the hairs standing on the back your neck. The nervousness of conceding a sloppy, early try. The determination and courage of Jersey Reds as they forced their way through the Ampthill guard. The tension as the clock ticked. The relief when Reds finally put the game to bed. The release of emotion as the final whistle blew and celebrations began.

Beautiful, beautiful sport.

‘I’m trying not to let the emotion get the better of me,’ said Harvey Biljon as the Championship trophy was paraded around the pitch.

This was one battle the director of rugby was not going to win, the tears welling in his eyes.

No one deserves it more. It’s been Jersey’s journey and it’s been his journey, over nine years in the making.

‘This was special. Really special. Like, right up there as one of the best sporting success stories Jersey has ever seen special,’ tweeted Tim Pryor, a long time commentator of the Reds for BBC Jersey. It was undeniable, though the Island has seen a fair few in recent years.

But nothing like this. Jersey: Champions of the Championship. The second highest tier of English club rugby. Officially, the 12th best team in the country, at least. Maybe better. We might never know. Promotion to the promised land of the Premiership denied by overreaching, self-defeating and pompous Minimum Standards Requirements by the powers that be.

The hard work was already done the week before, beating rivals Ealing. Jersey were expected to win this but team sport doesn’t always work like that. Biljon’s boys would find that out early on, when they allowed Lewis Finlay in to score virtually unopposed within the first two minutes.

It’s moments like this that test the winning mentality of a team when the pressure is on. Our Caesareans responded immediately, determined to complete the job. They fought like gladiators in the middle part and swooned like toreadors by the end. This was their season condensed into one game.

Sometimes it is all about the fine margins or that little bit of luck. Reds might cast their minds back to 21 October, a typically blustery autumnal night at the Stade under the lights. For 40 minutes they had put their foes, the Knights of Doncaster, to the sword with the wind behind them. But 40 minutes later they could only watch on nervously as Knights’ Sam Olver stepped up to take a conversion with the last kick of a game separated by just two points in Jersey favour.

He missed, Reds counted their blessings, maintained their 100% winning start to the season which remained in place all the way to Christmas Eve.

Then there came the inevitable wobble. A first loss of the season, away at Ealing, the acid test, followed by a draw at Coventry. Lowly London Scottish came to town. It should have been easy, but winning a title is never easy. 24-22 up, Scottish awarded a penalty 23-yards out. The last play of the game. But Reds had another ‘get out of jail free’ card up hiding under the Monopoly board and the kick was missed. From then on, they never looked back. There was no stopping the Jersey juggernaut.

It has worked with a bolstered squad of 40 players, competition for places, calculated rotation and injury cover. But they have also played a more open, holistic brand of rugby, on the front foot, seeking the bonus point, utilising the pace of their wing wonders, rather than rely heavily on the set-piece, which they still used so effectively.

And then there are the numbers. Just one loss and one draw, in consecutive games, bookended by ten-match winning runs either side that took them to a magical 100 points in the table, 18 of them bonus points. Five different players scored ten tries or more. Will Brown (14), Tomi Lewis (13) and Ben Woollett (11) have been sensational on the wing, but there was hooker Eoghan Clark, again, with 13 tries, demonstrating the strength of the Reds’ pack, and centre Jordan Holgate with ten.

Three months into Biljon’s custodianship and on the last game of the season, Reds beat the Blues of Bedford to avoid relegation and send Ealing down instead. Today, it was another Bedfordshire club that played the antagonist at the west London club’s expense.

But this is the story of Jersey Reds, of Biljon, of director Mark Morgan, of all the players and all the staff past and present. It is an Island story. In the club house post-match party, the players took to the microphone to belt out a number pop karaoke classics. We all danced, cheered and sang along. And we will continue to sing along to their song for days like these.

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