SUPPORTERS of Jersey Reds have become accustomed to large numbers on their side of the scoreboard when the final whistle blows, and it was another case of ‘job done’ for the Island side on Saturday.
After scoring 171 points in winning their three March games, the Reds racked up another half-century – including eight tries – in their first April outing as they put Nottingham to the sword.
The visitors hadn’t been helped by the weather-enforced travel chaos on the day before the match, with their cancelled flight replaced by one landing barely two hours before the pushed-back 3.30pm kick-off.
It certainly was not the perfect start by the home side, with fly-half Russell Bennett falling victim to the strong wind blowing across the ground from St Ouen and seeing play brought back 70 metres when his clearance rolled dead.
And the Reds were soon without a member of their starting line-up, Ryan Hutler failing a head-injury assessment after a knock just four minutes into the game and being replaced – eventually on a permanent basis – by Ben Woollett.
It didn’t take long for the reshuffled Reds to assert themselves, though, powering towards the try-line thanks to the twin efforts of locks Tom Everard and James Scott, and then moving the ball swiftly to Jordan Holgate, who barged over for the opening try.
Bennett, who had seen his conversion bounce back off the post, then fired a penalty into the marquee corner and watched as his forwards executed a perfect catch-and-drive which brought a try for James Hadfield.
Nottingham had several spells where they looked dangerous in attack, and the home defence was given a tough test during the next phase of the game before raising the siege and pushing upfield in search of more tries.
Two scores came in quick succession: a penalty try as another maul was dragged down, with culprit George Cox sent to the sin-bin, and then a quick shift of direction that enabled Holgate to glide through for his second with just over half an hour played.
Getting points on the board with the wind behind was a clear aim for the Reds, and a first half that wasn’t far from being perfect was completed with a fifth try in the last move. Sam Grahamslaw and Adam Nicol combined with handling more like Fijian centres than Scottish props and Nicol charged over the line.
The visitors may have hoped to get back into the game as they restarted with the wind behind them, but an early chance for wing David Williams was called back for a forward pass and it was the Reds who scored next. Dan Barnes – a half-time replacement for Holgate – took possession for the first time inside the opposing 22 and was able to squeeze over.
Williams was able to break his side’s duck when he came inside and stretched over after 53 minutes, but it was more consolation than comeback, especially when replacement Eoghan Clarke crossed from a maul.
The visitors managed one more try from replacement back-row man Josh Poullet, but the Reds had the last word as Tomi Lewis forced his way through a midfield hole, raced forward and found Woollett, who finished spectacularly in the corner. Bennett couldn’t add the extras with the final kick of the game, but five from seven in tough conditions was a fine return.
Director of rugby Harvey Biljon admitted he’d be rolling out an old cliché in describing ‘a game of two halves’.
‘We wanted to make a fast start, build on territory and take some scores, and I was impressed with our first half,’ he said.
‘Nottingham kept playing and we had to put in some long defensive sets to keep them out, so I was happy with that side of our game too.’
One of the stand-out players during his 40-minute contribution, although losing out to skipper Alun Lawrence as the match sponsor’s choice for man-of-the match, Holgate was also pleased with his side’s efforts.
‘We’d spoken all week about a game-plan, putting them under pressure from the start,’ he said. ‘We controlled the right areas, especially through the half-backs, and I was lucky enough to get on the end of a couple.’
The next home action at the Stade is not for three weeks, but is lined up as a possible title decider against Ealing Trailfinders, who maintained a six-point buffer at the top of the table with victory at Bedford on Saturday.
The leaders will sit out the Easter weekend as the Reds look to ‘cash in’ their game-in-hand with a win against Doncaster Knights this coming Saturday. The fixture was due to be held last month but was called off due to a frozen pitch in Yorkshire.