OCCASIONS such as these make you feel sorry for people who are not blessed with an interest in sport.
While it certainly helps, you need not understand all the intricacies of rugby to appreciate and enjoy the emotion involved, and there was plenty of that on show at St Peter on Saturday afternoon.
The crowd – 3,000-plus in size – cheered and urged their side on with all their might. The players – on the brink of history – fought with every ounce of energy left in their bodies as full-time approached.
When the last blow of the whistle arrived, director of rugby Harvey Biljon was in tears.
Jersey Reds are top of the Championship, with one game to go.
Win this weekend, at home to Ampthill, and they will become champions of the second tier.
Ealing entered this latest ding-dong against their long-time rivals one point ahead in the league and with a considerably better long-term head-to-head record as a psychological buffer. The Islanders had lost 11 games in a row to the Londoners before February’s Championship Cup group-stage win, and were in need of a repeat to have any realistic chance of collecting the ‘favourites’ tag heading into the final day.
A repeat was what they achieved. And they deserved it.
Ealing – the last team to beat Jersey at Stade Santander, 14 months ago – did strike first through the golden boots of kicker Steven Shingler but in truth they spent the majority of the contest soaking up pressure, alongside a Channel Islands downpour.
One visiting squad member – not selected as part of Ealing’s 23 but present for pre-match preparations (and who shall remain nameless to save embarrassment) – was seen booing Jersey’s players onto the field as Lewis Wynne led them out of the tunnel, but his efforts to undermine the hosts’ confidence had clearly fallen on deaf ears. The men in red hit back through centre Alex McHenry, having pulled Ealing left, right and then left again, and after Rob Farrar burrowed over for Trailfinders, home prop Sam Grahamslaw handed his side a 12-10 half-time lead at the back of a maul.
That set-play came from a lineout that was selected in favour of what would have been a routine kick for the posts, for 10-10. It was a first indication that a bonus-point win was Plan A, as Jersey attempted to give themselves as much of an advantage as possible for round 22 of the campaign.
That would later change, with Bennett teeing up a failed shot to take the Reds out of reach with a penalty in hand, after replacement Will Brown had lapped up a defensive disaster for Ealing.
Jordan Holgate’s long and low kick positioned visiting wing Luke Daniels inside his own try-zone and, inexplicably, he attempted to run it through Brown, rather than touching down or booting clear. The Jersey winger proceeded to flatten him, Reds fullback Brendan Owen grabbed the loose ball and slipped it back to a now-free Brown, for 19-13, thanks to Bennett’s extras.
However, opportunities had been spurned – Steven Longwell just missed a diving catch over the line from a loose lineout and James Mitchell’s touchdown was ruled out for crossing – and the six-point margin was at risk of not being enough.
Ealing had a chance in the final 90 seconds to set themselves up for a steal, but Shingler’s penalty kick for touch – and a lineout – was well short. They did regain possession and looked dangerous – methodically inching towards Jersey’s try-zone with brute force. Home hearts were in mouths, but a knock-on sealed it.
As Jersey’s support staff and off-field players sprinted on to celebrate, Biljon and his two lead coaches, Rob Webber and Tom Williams, grabbed each other in uncontrolled fits of joy from their clubhouse-balcony viewpoint. It was raw emotion. Jersey Reds baseball caps flew from their screaming heads.
For everyone not in the Ealing camp, it was superb.