Jersey Reds 28 Richmond 17

Richmond completed a wonderful first season in the Championship with a close run game against fifth placed Jersey Reds. Once again, they demonstrated remarkable spirit and fitness to mount a late onslaught, which almost stole the game. However the Reds hung on and ultimately deserved the victory, though nobody would have begrudged the visitors a couple of losing points.

The season had started with this fixture at the Athletic Ground. Jersey, rotating their squad with half an eye on the forthcoming B & I Cup Final, retained twelve of that match day squad whilst Richmond included thirteen. Richmond’s one change from the previous week was a first league start for Freddie Gabbitass, whilst Cameron Mitchell and Jack Allcock celebrated 50th appearances.

With a cold North wind blowing strongly, white shirted Richmond claimed the first points in the sixth minute. The home pack looked gargantuan, their hooker and flankers resembling extra second row forwards. Despite this weight, Richmond got the best of the first two scrums. From the first, Jono Woodward shot away, bursting to the 22 before the ball was knocked on. And from the second, Richmond were awarded a free kick for early engagement and Rob Kirby kicked to the far corner. From the line out, Matt Corker and Will Warden provided the initial momentum before the ball was moved out to Woodward and finally back inside. The forwards mauled forward and Adam Peters got the final touch. From the touch line, Kirby added another memorable conversion.

Jersey now started to establish territorial domination and Richmond struggled for possession. The stats tell the story, as Jersey had the throw in at the next nine line outs and were awarded eight penalties in the first half. Despite this imbalance, the Richmond defence looked secure enough until the nineteenth minute. From a line out, the home forwards were stopped just inside the 22. The defence fanned out to cover the danger and somehow left open a big gap close to the maul, through which the mobile lock Uili Kolo’ofa’I strolled on his untroubled way to the line. Brendan Cope added a simple conversion.

Richmond were indebted to a scrambled clearance by Kirby when a through kick almost found unprotected space. However they held out under fairly continuous pressure until the half hour. Warned after two successive penalties, Richmond suffered a yellow card when penalised a third time for pulling down the maul. Jack Allcock was at first picked out but the decision was then changed to Rupert Harden, Inevitably, in the next play, the mighty pack rumbled forward and flanker Max Argyle got the touch down, Cope extending the lead to 14-7.  On the touch of half time, Richmond finally got themselves into prime attacking position and got a good drive going forward before the ball was knocked on.

Still down to fourteen men, Richmond had to work hard in defence whenever Jersey got their pack close to the line. However they held out, winning an important scrum penalty and both Jordan Simpson-Hefft and Ronnie McLean-Dents had promising runs in attack.  In the 58th minute, Chris Davies stole another Jersey line out and, after spade work by McLean-Dents and the big forwards, Cameron Mitchell was able to squeeze in at the corner to take the score to 14-12.

At this stage, Richmond looked increasingly confident, prop Harden next to have a good gallop in clear space. But Jersey had brought on extra fire power and substitute Apakuki Ma’afu provided the key break, bursting impressively through the centre and kicking ahead for a foot race with full back Kirby. In the strong wind, neither claimed the ball but instead centre Lewis Robling was following up well and got the key touch, Cope adding the conversion for a two score lead at 21-12.

Richmond now threw everything into attack, substitute Harry Edwards making particular impact. With a ready supply of ball, the dangerous Woodward was close again and Jersey flanker James Voss was yellow carded for killing the ball. Richmond then got mighty close in the corner, arms in the air in hope or belief. But referee Fergus Kirby consulted with the linesman and awarded a 22 kick.
Still, Richmond persisted in attack and, with six minutes left, the strong running Mitchell found space and timed his pass well to give Chisholm just enough space to reach the corner.

With the conversion agonisingly adrift in the strong wind, Richmond needed another try. They tried everything and set off from their 22 with a quickly taken tap penalty. Frustratingly, Jersey arms were waiting and Ross Adair intercepted for a straightforward try and victory by a rather misleading eleven points. However nothing spoiled the party and the Richmond contingent left, proud of their team and hoping that the ever hospitable Jersey Club can win the Cup next Friday. There were also final appearances to note for Sam Stuart (going on to Newcastle Falcons) and Matt Corker (retiring). Both have played big parts in Richmond’s remarkable season.

Tries: Peters, Mitchell, Chisholm    
Conversion: Kirby
Team: R.Kirby, J.Simpson-Hefft, C.Mitchell, R.McLean-Dents (A.Chisholm), J.Woodward,  F.Gabbitass, S.Stuart (J.Gibbs), T.Walford (J.Cunnew) , R.Grimstone (R.Townsend), R.Harden (J.Tarrant), W.Warden, M.Corker, A.Peters (T.Sargeant), C.Davies , J.Allcock (H.Edwards) .