Richmond 23  Jersey Reds 14

JerseyTry1

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Roared on by an approving crowd, Richmond tackled their hearts out to earn a tense first win of the season against what must have been one of the biggest sides ever to visit the Athletic Ground. The four points earned should provide welcome confidence for the important trip to Rotherham next week.

Martin Freeman was given a starting place on the wing in a side which otherwise closely resembled the line up which ran Ealing close in the last home game. On the bench some excellent performances in the Vikings earned Toby Saysell his first team debut on the flank.  The Reds have had to replace most of last year’s pack, who have been snapped up by Premiership or wealthier Championship sides. This is a tribute to the player development and coaching at Jersey. A key ingredient in identifying replacements has clearly been bulk.

The visitors showed no signs of travel sickness as they dominated the first ten minutes.  Jerry Sexton was the first Goliath to break the defensive line and, when he was eventually hauled down, Richmond were penalised at the tackle. This enabled Jersey to set up camp deep in the 22 and six penalties in the next ten minutes clearly built the pressure. With Richmond on a final warning, Jersey’s crooked line out throw provided invaluable breathing space, closely followed by a home scrum penalty.

Richmond’s first venture into opposition territory followed in the eleventh minute, courtesy of Rob Kirby’s boot. Moments later, an excellent backs move almost broke the deadlock, Kirby looping outside to take a neat pass from Jono Woodward before finding Ronnie McLean-Dents inside, the centre stopped just short. However Cameron Mitchell was hurt in the move and forced off the field, Woodward moving to centre and being replaced by Jordan Simpson-Hefft on the wing. Woodward went on to play an outstanding game in attack and defence and must have been everybody’s choice as Richmond’s Man of the Match.

After twenty minutes, the home side suffered a second blow when Jack Allcock clashed heads with Jeremy Cunnew  and departed the field to be replaced by Saysell. In the next minute, Simpson-Hefft intercepted a loose Jersey pass and kicked ahead, the Reds’ defence just able to cover in time.  The game continued to ebb and flow as the visitors used their huge forwards to batter up the field. However it was Richmond who got the first score.  Awarded a half way penalty, Kirby found a very good touch fifteen metres out. The pack built momentum from the line out and trundled forward, being stopped just short of the line. Cunnew was nearly over but the ball was recycled and the alert Luc Jones sniped over to earn his side the lead, Kirby adding a top class conversion in another immaculate kicking display.

Somehow Richmond held out till half time, the defence refusing to bow to the power and weight of the Jersey attack. The Islanders did well to retain possession but they could find no way through. Five minutes into the second half, Richmond extended their lead with an excellent try. The Reds cleared the kick off to their ten metre line and Chris Davies won the line out ball.  When the ball was moved out to the left, Woodward’s twinkling feet and beautifully timed pass set Simpson-Hefft sprinting to the corner and the winger had the pace to beat the cover. Kirby added another top notch conversion.

Now it was again Jersey’s turn and Richmond were forced back into desperate defence. Once again the visitors drove from a succession of line outs but the home side were well drilled and held out with some wonderful defensive work on the line. With the big men out of ideas, the visitors suddenly spotted space. With a number of backs sprinting out to the right, the home defence was momentarily distracted and, when the ball went left the powerful Apakuki Ma’afu found just enough space to crash over. The South African fly half, Brendan Cope added another good conversion.

With tension mounting, Richmond won another penalty, converted by Kirby, to extend the lead to two scores. However any new confidence was soon rocked by a yellow card for Jake Parker, binned for obstructing a kick and chase. Jersey quickly exacted full punishment, driving over from fifteen metres in the follow up play, Jerry Sexton the try scorer. Importantly Cope added a touchline conversion and the lead was just six points with eight minutes to go.

With nerves jangling on both sides, Richmond got themselves back within kicking range and, when a Reds’ forward found himself the wrong side of the breakdown, Kirby made no mistake and the score was extended to 23-14. Jersey maintained the pressure as the home side tried to play out time. But there was no further score and it was time to celebrate an excellent day when all five Richmond sides claimed victories.

Steve Hill, Richmond FC Director of Rugby, commented; ‘This is a fantastic result for this squad of players. Each one of them showed huge amounts of courage and determination. They worked incredibly hard for each other for the whole game and were rewarded with a well-deserved win. There will be a lot of sore bodies and sore heads after yesterday and last night, but everyone will have a smile on their face when they travel to the office on Monday morning’

Tries: Jones, Simpson-Hefft
Conversions: Kirby (2)
Penalties: Kirby (3)
Team: R.Kirby, J.Woodward, C.Mitchell (J.Simpson-Hefft), R.McLean-Dents, M.Freeman, F.Gabbitass, L.Jones, J.Cunnew (W.Goodrick-Clarke), J.Phipps (R.Grimstone)), C.Trenier (J.Tarrant), W.Warden (A.Humfrey), C.Davies, J.Liston , J.Allcock (T.Saysell), J.Parker.