Jersey get set for Titanic clash at St Peter

22/01/2014

Jersey return to league action this weekend, taking on Rotherham Titans in Round 13 of the Greene King IPA Championship. Kick-off at St Peter is at 3pm.

Roth Logo

The Islanders' Cup outing to Ayr last weekend was memorably described by local stringer Ron Evans in his piece for the JEP as 'an old fashioned game of blood and snotters'. The writer quoted Ayr-born Rabbie Burns and described a bout of fisticuffs late in the match as 'a wee stramash', lauding the home side's tenacious victory in the mud.

The relevance of all this? Well it's precisely because Rotherham's last trip to Jersey, exactly 52 weeks ago, was another 'blood and snotters' affair, the old-fashioned feel enhanced by being played on muddy pitch 2 at St Peter, with ropes round the pitch and 1,808 spectators massed behind them. And it ended with a massive stramash featuring fast-flowing traffic in both directions into and out of the sin-bin.

Visiting officials were none too impressed at having to move away from the main arena at St Peter, although there was no dispute about the non-playability of the surface, and Titans' Head Coach Alex Codling was left fuming as his side were denied a penalty try late in the first half, and then had the possibility of a winning score in the last play snatched away. Although one might add, in the interests of balance, that many Jersey supporters were convinced that seven of Roth's 10 points stemmed from a Charlie Mulchrone try that wasn't properly grounded.

A year on and the Jersey winter rain has not been as unrelenting; this fact, plus the drainage work carried out last summer, should leave pitch one in decent shape, which should please a visiting side who have clocked up 43 tries thus far in 12 league outings, a clear 25 ahead of their hosts.

Jersey will be hoping to give Head Coach Harvey Biljon the perfect start after the new recruit took overall charge this Monday, and the South African has re-energised a squad whose self-confidence levels had waned in the closing weeks of 2013.

But it's a tough ask against the side who led the Championship earlier in the season and have remained in touch with big guns like London Welsh, Bristol and Leeds. The Titans are currently second, just two points behind Welsh, and have won eight matches on the spin, a run of consecutive victories they've not achieved since 2002/03, when Roth won 24 of their 26 games, and promotion to the Premiership.

Although the visitors from Yorkshire have a loyal clutch of supporters heading across the Channel, the hosts are looking to make the most of home advantage with a bumper and partisan crowd at St Peter. They'll be rustling up extra interest with a Friday lunchtime trip to St Helier (details HERE)


News from the Jersey camp

The Jersey squad will be confirmed at around 12noon on Friday. You can read it HERE


Rotherham in 2013/14

The changes of personnel at Clifton Lane this summer were considerable with 22 new signings for the club. Among those who departed were Jerseyman Joe Ellyatt, now plying his trade in France, and two who were signed for Jersey by Ben Harvey - scrum-half Jimmy Williams and returning flanker Latu Makaafi. Both should feature in Jersey's squad this weekend, and home scrum-half Nicky Griffiths will no doubt be pleased to see Latu lining up in a red shirt after being on the receiving end of a particularly vigorous tackle from the Tongan last January (pictured below).

Latu NG 2

Among the new faces this season were fly-half Dallan Murphy from Queensland Reds, the Argentine centre Juan Pablo Socino, the return of number 8 Alfie To'oala and fellow back row man Ed Williamson, who also coaches the forwards. Props were sourced from an eclectic range of sources such as Portugal (Mike Dias) and Otley (Toby Williams).

Watch out for live-wire scrum-half Mulchrone and top try-scorer Tom Cruse (he has six league and two cup tries thus far, so is level with team-mate Michael Keating (winger).

Socino is a prodigious kicking talent, currently top of the pops by far in the Championship rankings with 167 points from kicks (and three tries). The Argentine landed 13 from 13 in the 79-9 walloping of Ealing in September and will be opposing the man who is second in the kicking table, Jersey's Niall O'Connor (109).

One face who will be missing is powerhouse Number 8 Laurence Pearce, who sustained a knee injury last weekend. Pearce, Socino and Mulchrone have all been named as possible transfer targets for Premiership clubs at the end of this season.

The big win over Ealing followed a 42-24 win over Moseley in the double-header that started the season at nearby Castle Park in Doncaster, and Roth claimed a September double over Mose with a slightly more emphatic 21-47 win at Billesley Common.

October featured the 27-32 home defeat by Welsh, a dour 12-11 home cup win over Bedford in appalling conditions, and defeat in Connacht in the second round of the B&I. Then Roth faced a tough Friday night at the Athletic Ground in Richmond but edged an exciting contest 23-24 over the Blue Exiles, Cruse claiming two tries.

After the win over Jersey at Clifton Lane, Roth had tough away matches at Leeds and Bristol. They competed gamely on each occasion and were unfortunate to have a zero return after 19-10 and 36-26 scorelines.

But since then it has been wall-to-wall wins - a close shave at home over Notts (17-11), road success at Plymouth (17-28) and then the Cup double over Llanelli in December in two close games. Bedford were beaten soundly at the Lane on Boxing Day (35-6) and Roth took full advantage of having two festive fixtures with a 35-30 win over the Pirates at the start of January. They have since racked up Cup wins over Connacht 'A' and Bedford (who must be getting fed up with them) to seal a QF spot in the B&I.


Any Previous?

Jersey travelled to Clifton Lane on a sunny late summer Saturday in September 2012, and were rocked in the first half as tries by Eamonn Sheridan, Carl Kirwan, Alex Rieder and Pale Nonu helped Titans to a 34-10 interval lead. Dai Bishop's interception was Jersey's only try.

The second half was an improvement, in fact Jersey 'won' it 21-20 and in the process picked up their first Championship point of the season, for scoring four tries following second-half efforts from Nathan Hannay, Glenn Bryce, and another Bishop effort following a length-of-the-field move. Roth scored further tries through Garry Law and Michael Doneghan, with Law adding 24 points with a flawless 10-from-10 kicking record.
A full report on the game, which finished 54-31, can be found HERE.

January 2013: It may not have been a thing of beauty, but there was no shortage of tension in the return match at St Peter.

The last minute had it all, with a fight breaking out in centre-field involving Jersey's Barry Davies and one of his colleagues, who escaped from Alcatraz, sorry the sin-bin, to join the fun, as well as some visiting players. Roth had been attacking, looking for a winning try, and were initially given a penalty that could either have been kicked for a draw, or run for victory, but then play was called back to half-way, and the game was up.

Charlie Mulchrone and Guy Thompson scored the game's two tries. Roth had the twin consolations of a losing BP and being one of the only packs all season to give Jersey's talismanic tight-head Jon Brennan any difficulty - 'the Bear' was yellow-carded in the first half. It finished 13-10 - see HERE for a full report.

Jersey's second visit to Clifton Lane in November 2013 was a rather tighter effort than the first. Charlie Mulchrone scored early for the hosts, but Jersey hit back through Ben Maidment's try. Cruse and Keating scored tries before half-time, but O'Connor's boot enabled Jersey to take the break just 19-16 behind.

Jersey tried to edge ahead in the second half, and Mark McCrea went close, while Roth hoped to gain a try bonus. The Titans were denied, but did manage to deprive Jersey of their losing bonus with a penalty from Socino in added time. See match report HERE


History of Rotherham

Rotherham and local rivals Doncaster actually had a lower ranking than Jersey when the RFU leagues came in 26 years ago. Jersey began the new era in London Three South-West, level seven, while Rotherham were in North East Division One, one rung down the ladder.

The Yorkshiremen's rise was earlier and even steeper than Jersey's recent ascent - no fewer than seven promotions in 13 seasons saw Rotherham reach the Premiership in 2000. This included three successive promotions to go from level five to level two (the same jump Jersey recently made starting in 09/10) between 1993 and 1996.

It's a tough call whether it was harder for Rotherham to reach the Premiership or to stay there. First of all the club missed automatic promotion in 1998/99 by a slither of points difference to Bristol, and then lost a two-legged play-off with Bedford on try count-back after a 38-38 aggregate scoreline (not the last time the teams took part in a 76-point thriller). 12 months later, it was another play-off, again versus Bedford, with Roth triumphant 40-34 over the two games.

Sadly it was straight back down from the Prem after just two wins, and then a denial of promotion the following season in the first example of ring-fencing at the top level. Roth overcame this hurdle with promotion in 2002/03 and some robust legal challenging, and played their most recent Premiership rugby at Millmoor, then home of Rotherham United, in 2003/04.

Once again it proved a task too far to stay at the top level and Roth have since been more settled at level two, a.k.a. The Championship, in recent years. Their best finish was second spot in 2006/07 while in 2009/10 it was necessary to contest the relegation play-offs. In 2011/12 the club finished seventh in the league but were then last of the four clubs in Pool B of the play-offs.

Rotherham's original history dates back to the club's formation in 1923 by a number of locals who had been introduced to the game at grammar or private schools. The early years were nomadic, until Clifton Lane was secured in the late 1930s.

After reformation in 1946, the club struggled both on and off the field until the 1960s when a greater flow of players from local schools began.

Well-known players with Rotherham connections include Moseley Head Coach and 70-times Ireland cap Kevin Maggs, Spanish wing Oriol Ripol, Irish scrum-half Guy Easterby, Henry Paul, John Bentley and Dave Scully. 14-times-capped Samoan Mike Umaga played 123 times for Roth, later becoming Player-Coach. Lock John Dudley played throughout the rise to the Premiership, his final appearance coming in September 2000 against a Newcastle squad containing the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Gary Armstrong, George Graham, Liam Botham, Inga Tuigamala and Ross Beattie.

Andre Bester first became Head Coach and Chief Executive in 2005/06. He left in 2007 and took over coaching duties at Birmingham & Solihull in 2007/08, shortly after the departure of Ben Harvey from his final position before moving to Jersey. Bester was back at the (coaching) helm at Clifton Lane in 2010, before leaving in October 2012.

Bester's replacement, Alex Codling, was in post for just six months, leaving at the end of the 2012/13 season (Roth again finished seventh) and being replaced by one of his players, Lee Blackett.

Blackett, 31, spent three seasons with the club a decade ago, making his debut in a Zurich Premiership game against Bath at Millmoor in January 2004. He moved across Yorkshire to Leeds in 2006 but returned to Roth as a player in summer 2012.


Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Roth through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey on Friday from 5.30pm, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device). NB the Beeb will also be covering the Jersey Football Combination XI's quarter-final tie in the FA Inter-League Cup against Dorset, which kicks off at 2pm, so the coverage may be shared up until 4pm
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon
• Reports and match action on Channel TV online and on Monday evening at 6.15pm; and on BBC Channel Islands on Monday evening at 6.30pm


The Greene King IPA Championship this weekend

The result most supporters at St Peter will be most keen to find out - apart from their own - is the clash between Moseley and Ealing. The Londoners have won at bottom-four rivals Jersey and Nottingham in their past three league games, and will be seeking a triple crown. On Sunday play-off probables London Welsh and Leeds square up at the Kassam - the Oxford side won 24-31 at Headingley in early November.

Saturday January 25
Bedford Blues v Nottingham Rugby, KO 15:00
London Scottish v Cornish Pirates, KO 15:00
Moseley v Ealing Trailfinders, KO 15:00

Sunday January 26
London Welsh v Leeds Carnegie, KO 14:30
Bristol Rugby v Plymouth Albion, KO 15:00


And finally

In local rugby action this weekend, there's a return to action for Jersey Athletic. The newly-formed Amateur side has been in hibernation for several weeks, but they'll emerge blinking in the sunlight in West Sussex, taking on Worthing at 1pm on Saturday. Earlier the same day Banks host Guernsey 2nds at Grainville at 11.30am, while the following day Beeches host Jersey 2nds at LQ at 12.30pm.

Don't forget Jersey's Tongan twosome Latu and Elvis are raising funds for cyclone relief in their home country, including head-shaving and a cake sale in the clubhouse after the match - details HERE

Duke

Was also good to see a rugby player grabbing the headlines as Lloyd Duke, a flanker with National Two side the Cornish All Blacks, being short-listed as Britain's Sexiest Farmer (above).

Enjoy your weekend's rugby!
Tom Innes

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