Jersey Reds will draw inspiration from their greatest hits playlist as they bid to scratch the record of unbeaten Championship leaders Newcastle Falcons at Stade Santander International.
Played 20, won 20, in league and cup – the Falcons are firmly on course to return to the top flight, and could become the first team to go through an entire season unbeaten in the second tier since Northampton in 2007/08.
But the Reds will hope to summon up the same spirit that has seen them shatter the 100% records of the eventual champions in four of the past five seasons: London Irish on two occasions, Bristol and Worcester Warriors.
The home side will hope that their historic ability to turn it on against Premiership-bound opponents is a bigger factor than recent form. The Channel Island side have lost all four of their February games so far – their worst run since the opening weeks of the 2016/17 season – while the Falcons’ smallest winning margin in their four outings this month is 16 points.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon has made multiple changes to the squad which suffered a Championship Cup quarter-final defeat to Ealing last weekend, with only five players in the starting XV wearing the same shirts this weekend: locks Rory Bartle and Kyle Hatherell, scrum-half Will Homer, centre George Spencer and wing Leroy Van Dam.
There is good news with two players lining up after long injury lay-offs. Prop Dan Richardson [profiled HERE] will make his debut following a broken foot in pre-season and several months of hard work in rehabilitation, lining up in the front row alongside TJ Harris and Fijian international prop Leeroy Atalifo. The back row is also changed, with Josh Bainbridge returning to skipper the side, Max Argyle switching to number 8 in place of Janco Venter and Conor Joyce switching from open- to blind-side flanker.
Partnering Homer at half-back is Aaron Penberthy, who famously applied the coup-de-grâce in the win over Worcester in March 2015 with a magnificent late drop-goal. Penberthy’s promotion from last week’s bench allows Brendan Cope top move to centre in place of the suspended Rodney Iona. The other returnee is full-back Tom Williams, injured in the first Championship match of the season in mid-October but now fully recovered. Auguy Slowik moves from full-back to wing where he replaces Alex Morgan.
Loan signing Beck Cutting is a replacement after missing the Ealing match due to being ‘cup-tied’, with Biljon opting for a 6:2 split between forwards and backs. Jake Upfield is likely to come on for his 50th competitive appearance for the Reds.
The hosts expect the largest crowd of the season at the Stade Santander International, with a large contingent of visiting supporters. As well as a Friday night Q&A with the respective DoRs, there’ll be two marquees on match-day, with live music after the game.
Earlier in the day a Jersey XV take on Guernsey in the annual Inter-Insular at 12noon at Les Quennevais, while on Sunday Jersey Reds Women travel to Hove for a league game that kicks off at 1.30pm
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Newcastle Falcons (H) – Greene King IPA Championship, Round 14/22, Stade Santander International, Saturday February 29th 2020, k-o 3pm
Leroy Van Dam
Josh Bainbridge (capt)