The home side were given a terrific reception from the Garenne Stand faithful as they left the field after a particularly brave and occasionally brilliant performance in a 26-24 defeat against Clifton, which is more than can be said for the officials, who did not endear themselves to anyone of green-and-white persuasion on an eventful afternoon.
Certainly, Jordan Reynolds will not be adding them to his Christmas card list this year after his side received five yellow cards, two of them to Dom Rice, who was subsequently shown red, and eventually succumbed to a penalty try with the last play of the game which finished with in excess of 10 minutes of scrums five metres from the Guernsey line.
‘We’ll have good chat with them [the officials] after because I think they had an absolute mare of a day, but I think our guys did really well,’ said a Guernsey coach proud of his team and bemused by the trio in yellow.
For Guernsey to come so close to beating a top-four side despite playing only 45 minutes of the game with the full complement of 15 men on the pitch speaks volumes for the shift they put in.
It was a frantic opening with some fearsome hits in which Clifton lost lock Joseph Owen to injury before Raiders opened the scoring on eight minutes when Clifton’s line speed proved to their detriment as Joe Andresen allowed the defence to run beyond him before weaving his way through a gap and arcing his run to the right-hand corner for a great solo try.
Clifton piled the pressure on, looking for a response, and Raiders lost captain Lewis Hillier to the first yellow card of the day after a quarter of an hour, but the defence held firm and kept the visitors at bay while he was in the sin bin.
However, three minutes after Hillier returned to the fray, Clifton were level thanks to a quick tap-and-go penalty at close range from scrum-half Mitchell Spencer after No. 8 Bradley Talbot had made a break on halfway straight up the middle of the pitch.
Shortly afterwards, a blatant deliberate knock-on from Clifton fly-half Luke Cozens, who virtually gave himself up, somehow went unpunished but then Raiders were reduced to 14 once more when Rice got his first yellow for a high shot on Tom Jones as the visiting centre was juggling a ball that was getting away from him.
Despite being a man down, it was Guernsey who went into half-time with a seven-point lead.
With Andresen having kicked a penalty into the left-hand corner, Raiders went for a catch-and-drive with hooker Tom Ceillam peeling off from the maul to force his way to the line.
Charlie Davies added the conversion with the final kick of the half.
Clifton started the second half strongly while Rice was still in the sin bin and within six minutes they were level once again, as Henry Harper exploited a gap from short range after a series of phases and Cozens added the extras.
Five minutes later, though, Raiders struck again as Andresen scored his second try of the afternoon, supporting a great break from Anthony Armstrong to receive the winger’s pass after he had drawn the last defender.
Armstrong was heavily involved in Guernsey’s bonus-point try on 56min. as a set move from straight off the training ground worked a treat, with Ceillam finding Rice at the back of a line-out before Armstrong came into the line on the crash ball then offloaded to Ciaran McGann to score.
But from 24-12 ahead midway through the second half, things started to go wrong with Rice’s second yellow for not retreating 10m having a major influence on the game. The fact that the Clifton attack had stemmed from another controversial decision to award the visitors a penalty for offside despite a Guernsey player being on the end of a high tackle in the same passage of play was not lost on Reynolds.
Flanker Jack Bartlett, who came up with some big carries for Clifton throughout the game, scored a converted try to get them back within five points with 11 minutes remaining to set up a tense finale.
Guernsey’s defence was courageous for a few minutes and Doug Horrocks pulled off a superb turnover to a mighty roar from the crowd, but a couple of passes later the ball was knocked on behind the line.
The subsequent five metre scrum turned into a lengthy episode in itself with the seven-man Raiders pack penalised a few times and eventually both Jacob Pinkney and Sam Steventon received yellow cards before, in the 86th minute, the referee’s patience expired and he awarded the penalty try, to leave Clifton jubilant.
‘We were hungry, we didn’t give them an easy run-in right at the end there, we worked hard all game and I think we were the better team,’ Reynolds said.
‘I think the only reason Clifton won is the yellow cards – and if they’re proud of that, then they won’t be the team to go up this season, that’s for sure.’