Jersey Reds face their biggest challenge of the season to date on Saturday when unbeaten league leaders Bristol make the trip to Stade Santander International.
Aiming for promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt, Bristol's star-studded squad have won all six of their Greene King IPA Championship games so far this season, taking 29 points out of a possible 30. The most recent outing may have been a defeat at home to Doncaster Knights in the British & Irish Cup, but widespread changes are anticipated in the Bristol ranks to what was an inexperienced Cup line-up.
Though they are certainly not favourites in the match-up between first and 10th in the table, the Reds are aware that every underdog has their day and have twice turned over table-topping sides on their home patch in recent seasons. Worcester Warriors were defeated 23-21 in March 2015, and earlier this year Jersey edged a thriller against London Irish 15-11.
Recent league history is less promising for the hosts, who have lost their last three Championship matches, but are boosted by a brace of B&I Cup wins over the past fortnight, as well as by the earlier-than-expected return of captain Scott van Breda after injury.
After limping off with an injury suffered in the warm-up to the match against Cornish Pirates in mid-September, the South African skipper has battled back to fitness and regains the full-back spot from compatriot Jason Worrall, who moves to the bench.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon makes one change to each row of his pack, with prop Jake Armstrong, lock James Voss and flanker Matt Rogerson returning to the starting line-up.
Prop Roy Godfrey and hooker Jared Saunders are back in the squad and will stand by to make an impact from the bench alongside international forwards Leeroy Atalifo and Uili Kolo'ofa'i.
Jersey have never beaten Bristol in eight Championship encounters dating back to 2012. Four away defeats have been by significant margins, but meetings on the Island have typically been closer: in March 2013 the Reds had a late try disallowed and lost 23-29; six months later Bristol's strong start was the platform to a 17-26 win, while in January 2015 two late tries for the visitors left Jersey empty-handed and frustrated after losing 17-27. Most recently Bristol did manage to achieve a more substantial margin when two Tom Varndell tries in the opening half-hour set them on the way to a 7-24 success in September 2015.
On the last day of British Summer Time and with favourable conditions forecast, the home club are aiming to attract their largest crowd of the season so far for the game, after which the players and coaches will have a weekend off before London Scottish come to the Island for a Friday Night Lights encounter on November 10th.
Jersey Reds Athletic, the club's 2nd XV, are also in action this weekend with an away Zoo Shield game in south-west London against Barnes - kick-off is at 1pm.
Jersey Reds squad v Bristol Rugby (H) - Greene King IPA Championship, Round 7/22, Saturday October 28th, Stade Santander International; k-o 3pm
Scott van Breda (capt)
Jared Saunders, Roy Godfrey, Leeroy Atalifo, Uili Kolo'ofa'i, Rory Bartle; Joel Dudley, Jason Worrall
17 Nov 2022
Old rivals both seek to stretch start-of-season winning run to 10 games