Fortune favours the brave
A DAY-ONE showing of ‘guts and glory’ blessed the eyes and ears of rugby fans on Saturday as Jersey Reds rode their luck to claim a daring bonus-point win.
Doing enough to earn maximum points with 13 men on the field is rarely achieved at any level but the Islanders saw to it with rugged determination against Championship rivals Coventry, while benefitting from a rub or two of the slippery St Peter green.
Fly-half Greg Dyer scored twice in the opening half-hour to send his new employers on their way in the first league match of 2019/20 – his first tries in over two years – before replacement hooker Nic Dolly bagged a brace off the back of two lineout mauls.
However, Dolly’s second score came after Harvey Biljon’s side nearly threw it all away inside the final ten minutes, but for opposition stand-off Rory Jennings skewing his easiest penalty kick of the day wide. Better accuracy would have sent the visitors 18-17 up with Reds backs Mark Best and Auguy Slowik both sitting in the bin.
All 15 of Coventry’s points came from the tee.
‘Our discipline wasn’t good today, we invited a lot of pressure on ourselves,’ said director of rugby Biljon, who also lost number 8 Jake Upfield for ten minutes in the first half for a high tackle.
‘But our scrum and maul stepped up and to still score four tries ... we’ve got to give the players credit. There were a couple of big moments where we could have gone for three [points] but we backed ourselves to go and get the win [off penalty lineouts].
‘I think it was a bit of guts and glory, if I’m honest.’
Reflecting on Jennings’ miss at 17-15 – a kick that in all likelihood could have broken the Reds’ back, Biljon said: ‘It was a big moment, definitely, but at the same time we were brave enough to go for scores. They went for points and it comes down to small margins in this league.’
Coventry made a habit of struggling on the road last season before finally finding their feet in the penultimate game at Doncaster – a week before completing a league double over the Reds at St Peter. And they retained possession of that away-day winning-key this side of the summer break with four successive wins, albeit against lower-ranked opposition in pre-season and newly-promoted Ampthill in the Championship Cup.
They only made their return to second-tier rugby a year ago, but in Biljon’s eyes the Midland-club are now among the top four clubs in the league.
An easier opener the Reds could certainly have been handed.
Nonetheless, Jersey started stronger and were off the mark inside seven minutes when Dyer sliced through the Coventry line – with the help of a stiff palm to a defensive face – and slid the final three metres over the whitewash on the right.
The Kiwi converted for 7-0 – his only successful kick of the afternoon – and after Upfield had spent ten minutes on a white plastic sin-bin chair the advantage was extended to 12 points in calamitous fashion for Coventry.
Former Red centre Heath Stevens fumbled a high ball on half-way and home winger Tom Williams pounced with a toe-poke forward. A 45-metre football dribble ended with Williams and Coventry’s last-man running beyond the ball but Dyer made no mistake from behind with a quick pick and dive.
Jennings reduced the deficit to 12-9 with a trio of kicks either side of the break and was required again to keep his side within one score after Dolly’s first from a rumbling maul.
By that point Jersey had lost Williams to a serious shoulder injury that required a dose of gas and air and with Best binned for a ruck interference the Red legs began to wobble.
Their lead was cut to two points before Jennings fluffed his lines from 30 metres, although Coventry’s decision to kick for points instead of touch was questionable in itself.
Slowik joined Best on the sidelines for charging dangerously into a ruck on 68 minutes, but the men in blue and white were unable to capitalise against a weakened, five-strong back line.
Instead, Jersey’s pack soaked up the pressure and sealed the win with the help of a scrum penalty and resultant lineout. Dolly was guided over.
Coventry had the last charge in chase of a draw but neither referee Matt Turvey or his assistant were able to identify a grounding in the Bowl corner. Held up, game over.
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