The professional approach, skills and savvy of the Exeter Chiefs Colts earned them a National U19 Plate quarter-final tie away to Newbury Blues in the coming weeks, but that tough ask is unlikely to be more of a test than this 24-17 win.
Leading 24-5 well into the second-half, despite Jersey having had more possession and territory, the large Mother’s Day crowd were delighted by their rugby sons’ response, which brought them to within a converted try of the Chiefs by the close.
And the final whistle, blown by the excellent Ian Davies of Hampshire, must have come as a great relief to the visitors, who simply are not used to conceding points. It finished three tries apiece with the pinpoint accuracy of Chiefs’ kicker Joe Pugsley proving the difference, converting all the tries and slotting a penalty for nine vital points.
But it was Chiefs’ man-of-the-match, left-wing Dean Churchfield, who turned around a promising start by Jersey’s forwards who had forced the visitors to concede three penalties within the first six minutes, stand-off Michael Le Bourgoise kicking for goal with one of them, but just pulling it wide.
Churchfield’s running gave great relief, and the opening try, for Chiefs with some scintillating running; the home defence seemly unable to get a firm grip on him. His first attack forced Jersey to yield seven points when he attacked from deep with Adam Garner on hand to finish under the posts.
Jersey’s pack, with the exception of the early line-outs, can be really pleased with their show throughout, while the whole team tried to play open running rugby. But where Chiefs had a real edge was in defence with Jersey’s strike runners of Charlie Clyde-Smith, Mark Livesey and Luke Le Sueur – the first eventually to get on the scoresheet – being denied early on.
Playing with a strong wind in the first half Jersey fell ten points behind when Puglsey slotted over a central penalty when the backs were caught offside. With Churchfield buzzing Jersey needed a good reply and they came up with a superb one – all the three-quarters joining in a move that started with Phelan on the right and ended with Clyde-Smith touching down in the left corner, via excellent carries from Le Sueur and Livesey.
Le Bourgoise’s good attempt just went wide.
But with half-time fast approaching an excellent penalty kick to Jersey’s five-metre line, and subsequent catch and drive from the line-out led to England Divisional flanker James Harris touching down in the corner. Pugsley’s conversion was superb and the visitors were by far the happier during the break.
But, 17-5 down and now facing the wind, Jersey showed real steel, pushing Chiefs back and producing powerful runs, which were again blocked well. So it was a tremendous blow when the clinical approach of the visitors led to another catch and drive try, this time claimed by second row John Harwood, again from a line-out achieved with a penalty kick to touch. Kicker Pugsley again excelled and it was 24-5. Had heads dropped Jersey could have been looking at a hiding but with fresh legs being brought on, for both sides, the local lads responded magnificently and Chiefs’ scoring was at an end
A good run by Le Sueur signalled renewed intent and reward was not far away. Attacking near the Exeter line prop Chris Pople sucked in a pile of defenders and when Ollie Harwood fed the ball out it sped out through the backs’ hands to Clyde-Smith who broke through on the right. Le Bourgoise was again just wide with the difficult conversion.
Action switched to the left after captain David Felton sent Jersey’s man-of-the-match Clyde-Smith powering away and good support from lock Will Hunter led to full-back Livesey wriggling through for a score close to the posts. Le Bourgoise converted and Jersey were within one converted try of the Chiefs – and looking well capable of getting it.
But again when under pressure Chiefs made the right decisions and they managed to negotiate the lengthy stoppage time to frustrate Jersey and emerge worthy winners.
It had been a terrific encounter and Exeter’s coach Rob Steer, after praising his own lads for their professional approach in sticking to their game plan, sang Jersey’s praises both on and off the pitch: ‘they can be proud of their efforts – they are a strong team and were absolutely terrific today, they played with vigour and force, excellent. We’ve been looked after really well and would like to thank everyone, it’s nice to come and play a side you’ve never met before.’
Jersey’s head coach Bob Shambrook was understandably disappointed – but only with the result. Pointing out that Exeter had only conceded 35 points ALL SEASON he was clearly proud of the running rugby that Jersey had produced, particularly when behind.