THE hosts were banging on Horsham’s door as hard as their fans were banging the sponsorship boards in the dying seconds at St Peter, although it was the visitors who would end with a cheer.
Jersey RFC almost pulled off what no other team in National Challenge 2 South East (South) has managed all season long – a victory over the champions. They can take pride from that, even if the overriding feeling was one of disappointment on Sunday afternoon.
The fact that the Islanders were well clear at half-time may only add salt into the wounds, but as they crank up the focus ahead of next month’s home Siam Cup they can use their performance in this fixture as a notable yardstick.
Barring a mini collapse midway through the second half, when Horsham scored three match-winning tries in nine minutes, Jersey looked like they were the side who had coasted to the league title with a perfect record.
Two scores in the opening 11 minutes set the tone on the main pitch at Stade Santander, providing a platform for a 19-7 half-time lead that was fully deserved. Ashling Magner intercepted and raced home from 30 metres before winger Emily Hart cut inside, off the right flank, and forced her way over.
The astonishingly speedy Anna Summerfield arced her way around Jersey’s defence for a Horsham score inbetween, but the side from West Sussex offered little else. They were second best for most of a stop-start opening period, extended by two lengthy injury stoppages.
Gemma Dufty could, and perhaps should, have extended Jersey’s lead in the Jersey Bowl corner – the replacement dropped the ball as she approached the tryline – but flanker Katie de la Cloche did touchdown before the break, following a raft of recycled balls off the back of Magner’s strong, central burst from a ruck.
Magner made another early break in the second half but from there, for 30 long minutes, it was all Horsham.
Summerfield’s pace had not been utilised to its full potential but she would strike again – sticking her head down and sprinting, quickly, through the heart of Jersey’s scrambling defence. That was for a 21-19 lead, after centre Freya Bell had converted her own try, to the right of the posts, and the kicker would double up soon after, with a diagonal dash off the right.
At 28-19 it looked like the game was over.
Jersey’s efforts were not helped through this period by a yellow card for de la Cloche, following one for Kim Vallance in the first half, but they regrouped and finished with a flurry that almost won them the tie.
Momentum swung back in their favour and after Nicole Rodrigues Ferreira was adjudged to have been held up over the tryline Nancy Portsmouth steamed through, turned her back and popped an offload into Laura Turpin’s hands, for a quick dive under the posts.
Taye Boakye-Yiadom converted for a two-point game and Jersey pressed again.
They were offered a chance to kick for points through a penalty, but opted to tap and go instead, and a knock-on eventually sealed it.
‘That was our hardest game of the season, without a shadow of a doubt,’ said Jersey head coach Simon Le Moignan. ‘It was physical, end-to-end, and both teams could have won.
‘It was the two yellow cards that cost us, but we have to deal with these things.
‘We were screaming from the sidelines for them to take the points from the penalty [for a 29-28 win] but the girls couldn’t hear us, and you can’t just run someone on with the tee. They needed to take a breath and look at where they were, because even if we hadn’t made the kick it would have been a 22 drop out and we would have retained possession. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
‘It does come down to the finest margins in a game that close.’
He added: ‘The girls were disappointed, especially with it being the last home game of the season, but the crowd were fantastic. The noise was brilliant and to see fans back up there, the day after a Reds game, supporting the women’s game and screaming encouragement … it was fantastic.
‘If the Siam is anything like that it’s going to be one hell of a game.’
Jersey travel to Worthing on 23 April for their final league fixture, before hosting Guernsey on Saturday 6 May.