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Jersey’s Houdinis deny Hartpury at the death

Rugby | Published:

JERSEY REDS' first match of a new decade may have been lacking in quality, but it certainly delivered in terms of last-gasp drama.

Jersey Reds flanker Max Argyle Picture: LAUREN COUCHMAN

Having endured a largely frustrating afternoon in the driving Gloucestershire drizzle and failing to take multiple scoring chances, Jersey found themselves in the last-chance saloon as the clock ticked down but found the score they required for a 10-9 triumph.

Trailing their determined Hartpury hosts by four points after Josh Bragman slotted his third penalty with around five minutes to play, the Reds knew they had to score a try, and executed in a style that was part Harry Houdini and part Dick Turpin.

The visitors gained possession after Hartpury centre Robbie Smith was forced into touch by Kyle Hatherell and George Spencer, two members of a Jersey bench that collectively made a significant impact later in the game.

The home side never regained the ball after that, conceding a series of penalties and a yellow card for replacement Tom Jubb that levelled up the numbers after Janco Venter’s earlier sin-bin.

The Reds won four consecutive lineouts and pressed inexorably towards the try-line. The penultimate lineout saw Jake Upfield lose possession of the ball, with the home side claiming a knock-on but the Reds viewing it as, at worst, having gone sideways.

Referee George Selwood had already spotted a penalty offence as former Jersey back row man Seb Nagle-Taylor jumped across the Red line and then entered the breakdown from the wrong side. Another penalty led directly to another lineout, and after TJ Harris had found his man – Upfield again the target – the hooker was at the back of a 12-man drive that delivered the winning score. Brendan Cope missed the conversion, but there was no time to restart.

The finale was reminiscent of the late score by Kieran Hardy at Stade Santander International in January 2017, when the scrum-half’s charge-down led to the winning try that sunk Richmond by the same scoreline.

The wind that blew across the Alpas Arena throughout the afternoon, accompanied by fine rain for the most part, made for the proverbial game of two halves.

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Barring a few early attacks from the home side, the Reds were the dominant force in the first period, spending most of the half deep in their opponents’ territory.

Some opportunities were lost as the conditions made it hard to guarantee lineout possession, but after hammering at the try-line, with one Roy Godfrey charge going within inches, the ball was spun wide by Will Homer. Cope flicked the ball on to Venter, who with limited room for manoeuvre was able to slide across in the corner.

Otherwise it was a tale of missed opportunities, one of the best being a superb break down the right by James Newey that so nearly created a try for the supporting Homer.

Not only did the Reds fail to add to their lone score, but they ended the half on the back foot, forced into a rare period of defence that saw Hartpury press forward and force a penalty under the posts that had Charlie Beckett yellow-carded for killing the ball.

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Bragman slotted an easy three points to get his side on the board, and repeated the feat at the start of the second period when Leroy Van Dam tried to run the ball out of defence but was penalised for not releasing on the 22-metre line.

Behind on the scoreboard for the first time, the visitors survived the remainder of Beckett’s sin-bin period without further alarm, but remained mainly in defensive mode. Hartpury may have had few try-scoring opportunities, but they were largely in control thanks to Bragman’s judicious use of the wind to aid his tactical kicking.

Inside the last ten minutes, the size of the task facing the Reds turned from steep hill to Himalayan mountain as Venter executed a clumsy no-arms shoulder-charge on Sam Goatley that referee Selwood punished instantly with a yellow card. Shortly afterwards Hatherell was penalised for not rolling away after a tackle, and Bragman delivered from the tee for the third time.

Hartpury’s tiring players had just a few minutes to run down the clock and complete a fifth consecutive win on their home turf, but in the event it was the Reds who were able to seize control and deliver the last-gasp win courtesy of ‘Houdini Harris’.

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