Preview & squad for Bristol (H) 10.1.15


Jersey take on their biggest challenge of the season so far this Saturday when unbeaten league leaders Bristol are the visitors to St Peter.

Hungry for a return to the Premiership after five years below stairs, Bristol have a side peppered with internationals who have won all 16 of their competitive matches so far this season. Since a tight 23-19 win against Worcester - a side with equally-strong promotion ambitions - on the opening day of the Championship season, just one league opponent has come within bonus-point distance of Bris: Bedford gave their visitors a Boxing Day fright, leading 12-0 at one stage before going down 24-28.
Bristol rugby
Jersey will take heart from the hope that their illustrious opponents may be due an off-day, as well as the knowledge that Bristol haven't had it all their own way on their two previous trips to the Island. Last season, a late September date saw the men from the west of England take an early lead before Jersey battled back and were unlucky to leave the field empty-handed after a 17-26 defeat (click scorelines for match reports).

Six months previously it was even closer; the final stages saw Bristol clinging to a 23-29 lead and the home side pounding at the try-line at the Jersey Bowl end. After several surges, James Gethings forced his way over the line, the crowd roared, and the referee's whistle blew. But it was the final whistle, not a score, with 'Geths' deemed to have been held up, and 3,074 people sighed loudly (for various reasons).

While Bristol began the New Year with a 55-18 trouncing of beleaguered Plymouth Albion, Jersey had a disappointing defeat at Cornish Pirates to kick off 2015. The Islanders edged a cagey first half at the Mennaye Field to lead 9-12, but faded badly, conceding three converted tries in the second half without reply.

Head Coach Harvey Biljon has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to his starting line-up, but the former scrum-half has switched his half-back pairings: Joel Dudley and Aaron Penberthy step up, while Ryan Glynn and Jonny Bentley move to the bench. The rest of the back-line is unchanged.
Jersey's starting front row is retained, while Pierce Phillips is back in the second row, skipper Alex Rae moves back to blindside flanker, and Nick Haining comes in at number 8.

Bristol are expected to bring one of the larger contingents of away support that St Peter has seen this season. Possibly those travelling feel it may be their last chance to visit the Island before they set their sights on Franklin's Gardens, Welford Road and The Rec in 2015/16. If that turns out to be the case, Jersey's players and supporters will want to make it a trip to remember, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.

Jersey squad v Bristol 'H' - Greene King IPA Championship, Saturday January 10th, St Peter - k-o 3pm

Backs (15-9)
Grant Pointer
Mark Foster
David Bishop
Lewis Robling
Drew Locke
Aaron Penberthy
Joel Dudley

Forwards (1-8)
Sam Lockwood
Joe Buckle
Harry Williams
Pierce Phillips
Nick Campbell
Alex Rae (capt)
Ryan Hodson
Nick Haining

Nick Selway
Ignacio Lancuba
Danny Herriott
Dave Markham
Michael Noone
Ryan Glynn
Jonny Bentley

Bristol in 2014/15 thus far (courtesy of Tom Tainton)

In the summer of 2014, Bristol moved to their new home, Ashton Gate Stadium. Currently undergoing redevelopment to become a 27,000 all-seater stadium, Ashton Gate - which Bristol Rugby will share with Bristol City FC - will play host to all of the Club's Greene King IPA Championship fixtures.

The West Country side opened the campaign at the Gate with victory over Worcester Warriors, courtesy of Ben Mosses' last-gasp try in front of a record league attendance.

Bristol recruited heavily over the summer, bringing in Welsh international duo Ian Evans and Matthew Morgan from the Ospreys, while Anthony Perenise arrived from local neighbours Bath.

Samoan international Jack Lam signed from Super 15 franchise, the Hurricanes, while Dwayne Peel (Sale Sharks), David Lemi and Chris Brooker (both Worcester Warriors) also came in from the top flight.

Scrum half Craig Hampson - who was named in the Championship Dream XV last season - came onboard from Leeds in the summer and Darren Hudson, Jack O'Connell (both Leinster), Max Crumpton (Harlequins), Gareth Maule (Scarlets) and Olly Robinson (Moseley) also arrived.

Former Wales U20s Head Coach Danny Wilson joined as Forwards Coach, while Mark Bennett arrived from Ospreys as Head of Performance.

Andy Robinson's men missed out narrowly on promotion to the Aviva Premiership last season, going down to London Welsh in the play-off final - the final fixture at the Memorial Stadium.

Bristol kicked off 2015 with a convincing win over Plymouth Albion. In front of a Championship regular season record crowd of over 10,700, the hosts stormed to a 55-18 win and, in doing so, returned to the top of the Greene King IPA Championship, two points clear of Worcester.

Olly Robinson bagged a double in a man of the match display, while Gareth Maule and the returning Ryan Jones also crossed for braces in a one-sided affair.

History of Bristol RFC

The club was formed in 1888, through the merger of two local sides Redland Park and Westbury Park, and within 12 years had their first England cap, J.W. Jarman. A contemporary of Jarman's was James Peters, who played for Bristol (and Plymouth) prior to becoming the first black man to play for England in 1906.

Hopping forward a decade or six, Bristol had two of their finest years in 1965/66, when the 1st XV won 39 games, and in 1971/72 when the club were unofficial champions of England and also the Anglo-Welsh league. The former England skipper John Pullin was a lynchpin of the Bristol side during this period.

In 1983 Bris won the John Player Cup, beating Leicester 28-22 under the captaincy of England flanker Mike Rafter. The team included Alan Morley, who scored 384 tries for Bristol in 519 appearances between 1968 and 1986.
When the league era began, Bristol competed at the top level for 15 of the first 16 seasons.

In 2002/03 the club ended up relegated. It took two seasons to get back up but in 2006/07, under the guidance of former England scrum-half Richard Hill, the club achieved their highest-ever league ranking, third in the Premiership, followed by a play-off loss to Leicester Tigers.

Once again there was a swing in fortunes before too long and in 2009 Bristol were relegated, with former England full-back Paul Hull replacing Hill. There were hopes of getting straight back up, but these were dashed at the final hurdle with play-off defeat by Exeter. 2010/11 was a disappointment, with the club only just escaping the ignominy of the relegation play-offs, but again there was the opportunity to strengthen and rebuild, resulting in a far stronger showing in 2011/12 until another play-off defeat, this team by the Pirates.

In 2012/13 Bristol were 'there or thereabouts' for most of the season but dropped off the pace in the closing stages. They rallied with a notable triumph 14-19 in the last game at Kingston Park, the only time Champions Newcastle were downed, but ended up being pipped to the final play-off spot by two points by Leeds, who held off Nottingham 30-26 on the same day.

Bristol are in their fifth season in the Championship since relegation in 2009. Multi-millionaire Stephen Lansdown became the majority shareholder in early 2012, although his investment in the club goes back to 2008/09. Lansdown also owns Bristol City FC, in which he is quoted as saying he has invested an "embarrassing" amount he estimated at north of £50million.

The Greene King IPA Championship this weekend

A rare line-up this weekend, with all six matches on Saturday afternoon. Rotherham and Nottingham kick things off an hour ahead of the others at 2pm with the hosts looking to get back into the top four, possibly at their visitors' expense. Two teams who - like Jersey - have had a run of poor results are Doncaster and Plymouth Albion, who will look to turn the tide with wins over Bedford (A) and Moseley (H) respectively. London Scottish against Yorkshire Carnegie should be a decent contest, but one imagines the Pirates may struggle to register a fourth league win on the spin when they go to Worcester's Sixways home.

And Finally

Two other Jersey sides play their first matches of 2015 this weekend - the Buccaneers take on Beeches at Grainville, with the 10am kick-off allowing plenty of time for lunch and the league game at St Peter. And the following day Jersey Ladies host Worthing at St Peter at 2pm.

Bristol might have expected to have created the week's biggest news wave with the announcement that Tom Varndell would be joining from Coventry Wasps in the summer. But this and most other items of Championship news were put into perspective when Plymouth Albion made an official announcement of their intention to move into administration in a week's time unless serious financial difficulties could be overcome. Administration would bring with it a 20-point sanction and effectively end Albion's 12-year stay at Championship level.

But the fat lady hasn't squeezed through the Brickfields' turnstiles yet, and if she did they'd probably persuade her to perform a fund-raising strip-tease - a major rescue project is underway, and the club are hoping for a massive response for the home game against Moseley. Rome won't be rebuilt in a day, but a win and a bumper crowd might just turn a glimmer of hope into a ray.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby!
Tom Innes

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