Jersey Reds go top with nail-biting win over Ealing

Jersey Reds go top with nail-biting win over Ealing
Harvey Biljon has guided Jersey Reds to the top of the Championship table

Jersey Reds are, remarkably, now favourites to lift the Championship trophy. Let that sink in. The side from the small rock near France are one win away from being crowned the country's best club outside the Premiership. Yes, there's still work to do next week - but what a season this has been for Biljon's boys.

The Reds put themselves in pole position, leapfrogging opponents Ealing Trailfinders to go top of the table with just one game to go, thanks to a thrilling 19-13 win over their title rivals. Tries from Alex McHenry, Sam Grahamslaw and Will Brown helped the hosts to the nail-biting victory, sending them two points clear at the summit.

Since before Christmas, Jersey and Ealing had been on a seemingly inevitable and unavoidable collision course, heading towards this season-defining and potentially title-deciding fixture on the penultimate weekend of the Championship season.

The two best sides in the second tier of English rugby have been separated by just a handful of points all campaign, and ahead of kick-off it was the team from west London holding the narrow one-point lead in the table. A big win for Ealing would be enough to clinch the title with a match to spare, but a victory for Jersey would put them top with just one fixture remaining and the title in their own hands.

Jersey Reds went into the contest on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run, and have not lost a league game on home turf for 14 months.

These two have history too. In 2012, Ealing amassed 112 points in their National One season, but more than a century of league points wasn't enough for promotion to the Championship that year as they were pipped by a Jersey side that won 26 of their 30 league matches (119 pts). Two years later, and this time it was a relegation battle that went right down to the nerve-jangling final day of the season. The islanders prevailed again, on one of the most memorable days in the club's history. A battling 41-31 victory at Bedford saw them finish up just one point above Trailfinders in the standings, sending them back down to National One.

Throw that recent history into the mix and you can see why there was a real buzz around the bumper 3,000 plus crowd at the Stade Santander International ahead of kick-off. The RFU live streaming the match gave further clue that this was indeed "a big one".

The game didn't disappoint.

Jersey Reds team huddle
Jersey Reds are now two points clear at the top of the Championship

Ealing, last year's champions, led on three separate occasions, the first of which was after 10 minutes through the boot of Steven Shingler. The Reds weren't behind for long and hit back through centre McHenry, who burst over from close range to get his side on the board.

In a topsy-turvy contest, which was always destined to be a close one, the lead was to change hands twice more before the break. Rob Farrar powered over for the visitors, before front-row Grahamslaw crashed over from a maul at the other end to help the islanders to a 12-10 half-time advantage.

The first 40 minutes had been played out under blue skies but the rain arrived after the restart to add an extra dose of drama to the occasion. Shingler's penalty from in front of the posts edged Trailfinders ahead again, by a single point. But just minutes later came the match-winning moment. Pressure from replacement winger Will Brown, chasing onto an awkwardly bouncing kick, saw Ealing lose the ball on their own line. Full back Brendan Owen was inches from touching down but Brown was on hand to pick up the loose ball and dive for the line in a moment that will likely go down in Jersey sporting folklore.

Jersey now host mid-table Ampthill next weekend knowing any win will be enough to clinch their first silverware in more than a decade. Ealing end their league campaign with a trip to Doncaster Knights, hoping for a Reds' slip up to have any chance of retaining their title.

Jersey Reds: Brendan Owen, Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Jordan Holgate, Tomi Lewis, Russell Bennett, James Mitchell, Sam Grahamslaw, James Hadfield, Steve Longwell, Sean O'Connor, Macauley Cook, James Dun, Lewis Wynne, Alun Lawrence. Replacements: Eoghan Clarke, Greg McGrath, Adam Nicol, Hamish Bain, Max Argyle, James Elliott, Dan Barnes, Will Brown.

Ealing Trailfinders: Jonah Holmes, Luke Daniels, Max Bodilly, Pat Howard, Nathan Earle, Steven Shingler, Craig Hampson, James Gibbons, Alun Walker, George Davis, David O'Connor, Barney Maddison, Rob Farrar, Adam Korczyk, Jack Digby. Replacements: Shaun Malton, Will Davis, Ross Kane, Andrew Davidson, Simon Uzokwe, Jordan Burns, Dan Lancaster, Will Montgomery.

Attendance: 3,032

Star Player: Lewis Wynne (Jersey Reds)

Referee: Christophe Ridley