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In a game that was always likely to be dominated by the conditions, so it proved as Jersey came out on top in a physical battle on the island on what was a difficult afternoon for the Pirates. Arriving at the Stade Santander International after weather warnings had dominated the news over the weekend, it was clear a tough afternoon was in store for both sets of players. The first half remained scoreless for 40 minutes as both sides traded blows, in a spectacle fit for the purist.
Like the Pirates, Jersey pride themselves on their power game at the maul and they put the Pirates to work in the first 40, with a series of catch and drives stemming from a penalty account that went against the visitors. The story of the half was of heroic Pirates defence emphasised by sheer stubbornness and defiance on their own line and at the maul. With virtually no ball, the Pirates frustrated the home side time and time again with crucial turnovers.
With the last action of the half however and the penalty count rising, the Reds landed a significant sucker punch from a penalty try which also saw Danny Cutmore yellow carded. The Pirates came out energised in the second half, with Tommy Wyatt going close to an immediate response, only for the assistant referee to chalk the score with a late forward pass ruling on Joe Elderkin’s offload. From there though, the away side struggled for territory and found themselves on the wrong side of the referees whistle, with that pre half time score looking all the more crucial as the minutes ticked on.
With Jersey camped on the Pirates line and the penalty count reaching critical levels, the hosts smelt blood and dually capitalised. Wes White powered over to extend the lead to 12. Time was now running out for the Pirates to salvage something and that possibility decreased further with a second yellow card, this time for a marginal offside against Shae Tucker following a White line break. Leeming took it to more than two clear scorers and things looked ominous.
Then came the lifeline. A superb carry from replacement Lewis Pearson broke the home defensive line, before Robin Wedlake marked his return from injury with a great score in the corner. The Pirates landed a double blow on the visitors as Brendan Owen was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on in the build-up. Arwel Robson couldn’t quite manage to land the difficult touchline kick. The Pirates were inspired, but would it be too little, too late?
A turbo charged Caleb Montgomery made a big impact during his cameo and led the way in the Pirates fightback. The losing bonus point was now the focus and despite a victory being seemingly unlikely, it was still entirely possible. The final exchanges belonged almost exclusively to the Pirates, who huffed and puffed with the extra man, but ultimately couldn’t find a way through and would have to fly back over the channel empty handed.
Pirates captain, Tom Duncan, commented “It’s a feeling of disappointment really. We worked pretty hard all week for this, so it’s a bit gut-wrenching. The key moments got away from us and I guess they won all of those small key moments. Discipline was an issue especially in the first half and that’s something that will half to be addressed this week and nailed down, with some big games to come. We’ve got to learn from it and fix some things before Doncaster next week.”
Attentions now turn to Doncaster Knights next Sunday at The Mennaye (KO 14:30), who will be buoyed by a superb victory over Ealing Trailfinders at Castle Park. The Championship continues to prove it’s worth, unpredictability and sheer drama.
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