Jersey pack pressure punishes OAs

Late tries cost OAs on the island

National League 2 South

Jersey 31 Old Albanians 21

OLD Albanians flew back from Jersey having failed once again to win on the island. As a result, Jersey gain a play-off place for promotion to National League 1, lying second behind the uncatchable Ealing Trailfinders. For OAs the best that can be hoped for is fourth place and a victory against Southend next Saturday at Woolams may go a long way towards achieving that goal. Lurking a short two-point distance behind are Henley, who upset the form book to beat Richmond.

Neither side gained a bonus point as both scored only three tries. However, good fortune did not bless OAs in many ways. Firstly both Tom Gillings and Stefan Liebenberg were unavailable due to disciplinary concerns; secondly Terry Adams had to leave the field after fifteen minutes following a clash of heads and may have to sit out the remainder of the season as a result. A third and quite unexpected element was referee, Simon Harding, who by his previous proven high standards had a shocker.

He whistled for a forward pass to OAs which Chris May athletically took and looked to be running straight to the Jersey line unopposed, ignoring advantage. After Jersey had taken the lead in the closing minutes from a forward drive - which included more than a suspicion of a knock on - finished off by their two-try Man of the Match, flanker Steve O’Brien, the same individual was allowed his second try right on the stroke of time. This started as a ruck 25 metres out from OAs’ line from which he intercepted a pass in a position 10 metres offside and ran in to score. It was with some irony that Jersey’s electronic scoreboard showed the final score as 24-21 for some hours after the match had finished.

However, he cannot be blamed for awarding four kickable penalties in the first 10 minutes as OA’s scrum was driven backwards and around. Fortunately, Jersey’s full-back Michael le Bourgeoise, scored from one but missed three sitters. He was later to kick a further penalty on the psychologically important stroke of half time to take the score to 14-6 in OAs’ favour.

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Before he had to be substituted, Adams was on hand to score OAs’ first try in the 11th minute as he finished off a kick-through by James Shanahan which was taken nearly to the line by May. Skipper Marc Comb scored OAs’ second try in the first half adding the final touch to an impressive forward drive from 20 metres.

At this point it has to be said that the game was played at a furious pace from the first whistle to last, the tackling and commitment on both sides was outstanding and the impression lingered after the game for both sets of supporters of a match of monumental intensity. Comb’s example was picked up by Wes Cope, Matt Alford and the whole back row, which welcomed back Jack Micans. For a time Jersey’s three-quarters looked dangerous, but their effectiveness and work rate were spoiled by unforced handling errors. They should be buying the drinks for their forwards who scored all their tries.

The score before half time bore fruit in the fourth minute of the second half as the forwards shoved OAs off the ball again – in all, OAs conceded two strikes against the head – and from the resulting penalty drove hard for OAs’ line with skipper Paul Rogers applying the finishing touch.

OAs bounced back as a Jersey three-quarters fumble allowed May to run for the line and feed the supporting Chris Lombard to add to the score sheet for the second week running. Richard Gregg improved all three OA tries.

Almost as quickly at the restart, OAs gave away a penalty which le Bourgeoise slotted to narrow the score to 21-14 in OAs’ favour. This gave Jersey the lift they needed and le Bourgeoise again tightened the margin with a second penalty. Two minutes later the forward surge which gave O’Brien his first score and converted by his full back ratcheted the points to 24-21 in Jersey’s favour.

One of the primary reasons for OAs’ achievements in this new league has been the ability to keep virtually the same team and squad together week-in, week-out. The squad get a mention because injured players still come to assist on the day with the thankless tasks of water-carriers and general dogsbodies, which does them massive credit. The unavailability now of three key individuals will be mitigated by their presence in the remaining matches.

OAs: Gregg, May, Adams, Lombaard, Lincoln, Shanahan, Evans, Cecere, Cope, Brown, Comb, Alford, Cooper-Millar, Micans, Daish. Reps: James, Ellershaw, Oxbarrow, Laws, Edwards, White.