Crunch Championship game kicks off 201628/12/2015
Jersey start 2016 with a massive game on home turf against the Greene King IPA Championship's second-ranked side, Doncaster Knights.
The Knights are unbeaten in 10 games across the Championship and B&I Cup stretching back to October 9th; as recently as last Sunday they were level on points with Bristol before the favourites for the title won their game in hand.
The Yorkshiremen will also be flying high with their transport arrangements, having chartered a Boeing 737 for their Hogmanay away-day to the largest Channel Island. Almost 100 supporters will be on-board, in addition to the Knights' players and coaching staff.
Jersey are seeking a substantial home crowd to ensure the day-trippers from the north of England aren't too noisy around the St Peter pitch, and will also be seeking to maintain some impressive recent form, which included three league wins on the bounce for the first time at this level - prior to the narrow defeat in Cornwall last Sunday - and two chunky Cup wins over Connacht Eagles by a combined tally of 92-22.
The sides have met twice already this season; September's league clash at Castle Park looked to be going the Islanders' way as they led 16-27 early in the second half, but Donny recovered to seize the win 31-27. And at St Peter in November Jersey recovered from a 5-22 half-time deficit in the B&I Cup, levelling the scores and missing a late penalty that would have won it. Pool 5 of the B&I may not be decided until the two teams meet at Castle Park on January 23rd, but first of all there is this Saturday's league match, which the Islanders - currently sixth after 12 league game so far this season - are targeting as a platform to move further up the Championship table and demonstrate that a top-four finish is within their capabilities.
Based on the six previous meetings between the sides there's likely to be little to choose between them - Donny have the slight edge with three wins to Jersey's two - with one draw - and an aggregate points margin of 127-122.
Jersey v Doncaster Knights - Saturday January 2nd, k-o 2.30pm. Advance tickets are available from usual outlets.
The two sides met twice in the RFU Championship in 2012/13. In late November Knights won 22-17 on home soil; the second encounter was a pivotal one which was likely to have a major bearing on the relegation battle that season. Jersey won 13-10 with Guy Thompson (pictured below by Sue Trower) scoring a try in his final match at St Peter before joining Wasps, and a few days later Doncaster's relegation - the first in the club's history since leagues began - was confirmed.
In September 2014, after the Knights had returned to the Championship after winning promotion back from National One at the first attempt, Jersey held a narrow 10-8 lead at the break, thanks to a try by Tommy Bell during his short stay on the Island. The lead was extended to 17-8 within three minutes but Doncaster stormed back and eventually won 17-23.
The match at Castle Park in January 2015 was the start of a massive improvement in form for Jersey over the second half of last season. The visitors led 9-23 at the break thanks to tries from Harry Williams and Drew Locke plus 13 points from Jonny Bentley, and another penalty from the Kiwi after the break helped Jersey keep hold of their lead, eventually winning 19-26.
September 2015: Doncaster 31 Jersey 27 (GKIPAC)
November 2015: Jersey 22 Doncaster 22 (B&I)
Click on all the results above for match reports.
DoR Clive Griffiths had his first spell at Castle Park in 2006/07, guiding the Knights to third place in National One (which was the second tier in England at the time). He was then hired by Worcester and also coached the North Wales Crusaders in rugby league and the Canadian national side before rejoining Doncaster in November 2012. The 61-year-old has recently signed a new deal that will keep him at Castle Park until May 2018.
Griffiths (pictured above) was a contender for international honours in the days before tactical replacements, and before Wales demeaned the prestige by awarding caps for games against the Barbarians. Plenty of players who sat on the bench in the 1960s and 70s never made it onto the field, but Griffiths won a single cap, and in impressive circumstances too, as a half-time replacement for the injured (how many times did that happen?) JPR Williams in a 27-3 stuffing of England in Cardiff in March 1979.
Dougie Flockhart is in his seventh season at Castle Park; the 31-year-old has made more than 170 appearances for the Knights, having previously played for Esher during their time at level two, and prior to that for the Scottish Borders.
Flockhart (pictured above) has amassed more than 900 points for Doncaster, although he has not always been the club's first-choice kicker - something Jersey supporters will be grateful for after the Knights' preferred option landed just two goals from six attempts in the relegation decider in April 2013. But since that date Flockhart has been a points machine, both in National One and at Championship level, where this season he has kicked 144 points, 11 ahead of Bristol's Gavin Henson, and with a percentage success rate in the low 80s. In three games against Jersey in the last 16 months, he has struck 48 points.
2015/16 is Tyson Lewis’ fourth season with the Knights having signed from Plymouth Albion in the summer of 2012. The winger has enjoyed a number of highs and lows in his time at Castle Park including a promotion and relegation in his first two seasons with the Club; topping the Knights' try scoring charts in both. His performances in the Knights promotion-winning season from National One saw Lewis named in the Rugby Paper’s National One Team of the Year.
On the Knights return to the Championship, Lewis (pictured above) continued to be a regular fixture in the starting XV, dotting down for a number of important tries. He also has three tries in five appearances against Jersey, including a brace in the B&I clash at St Peter in November.
Latu Maka'afi was one of the first professional players to sign for Jersey - the Tongan and Kern Yates came to the Island in summer 2006 and helped their new club to promotion to level 5 in 2008.
Since moving to the northern hemisphere, Latu has divided his time between Yorkshire and Jersey. He was with Bradford & Bingley and Hull and then subsequently with Doncaster, Wharfedale and Rotherham, racking up around 250 games in total. This included a season back in Jersey in 2013/14, after which he returned to South Yorkshire. Now 34, Latu has scored 12 tries so far this season, including two against Jersey in September, a reflection of both his durability and eye for the try-line and his side's powerful pack of forwards.
Latu is always keen to renew friendships with former team-mates
Doncaster Knights - a potted history
Back in the day: the club had various homes during the first 50 years of its existence, and then spent around 30 years sharing a home with the Doncaster Cricket Club before moving to the site of their present home in the 1950s - the now very well-appointed rugby ground and conference facility Castle Park
Jersey connections: Jersey Forwards Coach Steve Boden (pictured above) made around 200 appearances for the club until he moved to Jersey in summer 2012, and scored 18 tries for Knights, including 10 in 2007/08. Former Jersey full-back Glenn Bryce spent 2013/14 at Castle Park, but then returned to his native Scotland where he has played for Heriot's FP and Glasgow Warriors. Scrum-half Nicky Griffiths (he's the one cuddling Latu above) was another player who turned out for both sides
Silverware: The Yorkshire Shield in 1979, and of course National One in April 2014. Donny also got to the semi-finals of the B&I in 2009/10, losing to eventual winners Cornish Pirates, and went one better last season when they defeated Bristol in the last four and were then defeated on home turf by Worcester in the final
League History: Doncaster made a meteoric rise up the English rugby pyramid after leagues were introduced in 1987. Starting in Yorkshire Division Two (Level 10), by 2005 they had reached Level Two, where they spent eight seasons until relegation in 2013. After winning National One in 2013/14, Knights returned to the Championship and finished ninth last season, with the same number of wins (eight) as seventh-placed Jersey
This weekend's cast-list
The two squads are due to be named on Thursday morning. Skippers Alex Rae and Matt Challinor are pictured below (by Rich Chapman) as the sides locked horns at St Peter in November. The referee will be Dean Richards, assisted by Matt Daubney and Michael Patz.
Check out the Jersey squad announcement HERE
Doncaster Knights (15-9; 1-8): Jarvis; Flockhart, Clark, Hurell, Lewis; Cusack, Heaney; List, Hunter, Quigley, Phelan, Challinor, Shaw, Hills, Stedman. Replacements: Sproston, John, Veikoso, Hotson, Makaafi, Edgerley, Humberstone
After a month without any rugby, the players of Jersey Athletic will dust off their boots for a training match this weekend before the home Zoo Shield match against Old Elthamians on Saturday January 9th (k-o 12noon).
A small hard-core of Donny fans will be in Jersey for New Year, spending several days on the Island. Some of them were here in November too, and will almost have their residential 'quallies' by the time they head home. But the rest will be coming by charter plane, making a significant investment in a trip that will involve less than eight hours on Jersey soil. Ahead of take-off from Robin Hood airport just after dawn on Saturday, there's just one snag - the airline in question is named after their near neighbours and local rivals - their logo is below. Never mind, at least it's not (as made famous by Hale and Pace), Yorkshire Airlines.
Happy New Year, and see you in 2016!