Brave OA put up a fight
National Three, London and South East Jersey 19 Old Albanian 12 OA s flew into Jersey for the big showdown with their opponents who had previously scored an average just short of 60 points a game at their island stronghold. OA made the trip without Ross H
National Three, London and South East
Jersey 19 Old Albanian 12
OA's flew into Jersey for the big showdown with their opponents who had previously scored an average just short of 60 points a game at their island stronghold.
OA made the trip without Ross Hamilton who was forced to pull out through illness on Friday afternoon. Fortunately coach Bruce Millar was able to draft in Simon Lye on the bench and the back row specialist soon found himself in the thick of the action when skipper Laurence White left the field for stitches in a lip wound.
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Earlier, in-form Simon Lincoln, suffering from a back spasm, had also been forced to go off so Ed Panting switched to full-back.
To their credit, the visitors quickly adjusted to these challenges as all the players, one to 19, gave total commitment in a match which will be remembered for its intensity, physicality and ruthless competitive edge.
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Jersey, already odds-on favourites for the league title and bolstered by a strong contingent of players from the South Seas, scored the only try and marginally deserved their win but, in the process, OA's pack enhanced their own reputation as being the best at this level.
Starved of competitive action by the snow either side of the Christmas break, both sides tore into each other from the off in a match where the referee needed eyes in the back of his head in order to keep control of proceedings.
Gregg Botterman and his men immediately stamped their authority on events with a 25 metre drive and generally maintained the initiative in tight play over their opposite numbers who were led by ex-All Black Nathan Kemp.
Both sides' defences stood their ground throughout and, denied their usual dominance of possession, the potent centre partnership of Donovan Sanders and Sam Tuia was rarely allowed to sparkle.
Tuia and Sanders lie first and second in the table of try scorers this season but on this occasion were not able to add to their respective tallies.
As the league's top point scorers grappled with the meanest defence, try scoring opportunities from open play were predictably few and the only try of the afternoon notched by winger Ed Dawson resulted from OA's inability to deal with a high ball after 20 minutes of play.
The ability for each side to convert its share of the penalty count was critical and both fly-halves kept the scoreboard ticking over with a high success rate in difficult conditions for goal kicking.
Each of the playmakers had his share of bad luck however as Dan Hawkes hit an upright with a smart, attempted drop goal early on and then Richard Gregg had the agony of having the ball blown off the tee whilst in his kicking stride late in the game.
Hawkes saw yellow just before the break and it was Gregg's penalty from the incident that brought The Woollams' Men to within four points of the Islanders at 13-9.
In a vital spell of consolidation immediately after the break Jerseys' 14 men chose attack as the best form of defence, managing to nail another penalty when OA began to creak under heavy pressure. The complexion of the game then switched as Paul Mansfield was penalised for illegal handling just before Jersey were restored to full numbers, Hawkes celebrating his return with another penalty success.
This was the signal for a massive effort from the home side in an all out attempt to close out the game and for the next 15 minutes OA's defence was subjected to the most extreme examination.
James Ellershaw and Aaron Tarwera who had posed a continual threat over the first period in attack now stood shoulder to shoulder with their team mates in a desperate rearguard action in which both Alex Bennett and Marc Comb were outstanding.
Adam Gelman and Charlie Hughes came off the bench and quickly slipped into the defensive pattern which Jersey had strived in vain to break down.
As the game entered its final quarter, The Woollams Men forced play into opposition territory where the remainder of action was to be played out. Graham Smith's charge was halted just short of the line and a forward pass voided a slick move along the back line with new boy Carling Colfer primed to go over in the corner.
The home side were now firmly under the cosh and conceding successive penalties close to their own line.
Inevitably a yellow card was brandished and Jersey must have breathed a sigh of relief when, for a repeat offence, the official chose the same form of censure when a penalty try would have been more useful to OA's cause with so little time left.
Gregg coolly slotted his fourth of the contest, from the touchline and his valiant side were still battling on for the elusive score when the final whistle blew.
However, their efforts had won them not only a valuable bonus point but also the respect of the Jersey faithful who witnessed their captain, Tongan international Talite Vaioleti, saluting the visitors before they left the pitch.
The league action continues next Saturday when OA entertain Diss at Woollams (KO 3pm).
OA: Lincoln, Miller, Adams, Edwards, Panting, Gregg, Evans, Ellershaw, Botterman, Tawera, Comb, Bennett, Smith, White (C), Mansfield.
Reps: Gelman, Hughes, Lye, Colfer.