While other areas remain in the grip of December’s deep-freeze, supporters in the British Isles' southern-most rugby outpost can look forward to sunshine and a balmy 6°C in Jersey this weekend.
Having applied their sunscreen in the changing rooms, Jersey Reds and Bedford Blues will take to the field at Stade Santander International for the 20th chapter of a rivalry now entering its second decade.
The home side will be striving to maintain a winning start to their Championship campaign that has so far brought nine straight wins, but will also be mindful of opponents who have shown an ability to test any team they play.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon makes several changes to his playing squad from the 23-man selection which saw duty at Lady Bay in Nottingham last Friday, reflecting the strength-in-depth available to the coaching team.
Centre Charlie Powell and fly-half Russell Bennett are the only backs to retain their places in the starting line-up. There’s a first league start for scrum-half Jonny Law, Brendan Owen takes the full-back berth and Dan Barnes will partner Powell in midfield. Four wingers have been vying for two places all season, with Tomi Lewis and Will Brown the selected duo for this game.
Among the forwards, TJ Harris and Steve Longwell come into the front row after making an impact off the bench in the 22-31 win at Nottingham, while Hamish Bain and skipper Lewis Wynne should add new impetus to the second and back rows respectively.
Prop Greg McGrath is the lone player to hold a place on the replacements’ bench, which also features five starters from the Nottingham game plus the return to the fray of prop Adam Nicol and back row man James Dun.
On the 19 previous occasions the Reds and Blues have met, including one British & Irish Cup tie, there have been 11 Jersey victories and eight for Bedford. Last season the fixture brought home wins by 12 points (for the Reds in September) and nine (on Boxing Day at Goldington Road) respectively.
While both sides will be endeavouring to focus on the job in hand, they could be forgiven for having half an eye on their next games: Reds facing a summit meeting at Ealing on Christmas Eve – a match set to be streamed live via Championship channels – and Blues looking forward to a local derby against Ampthill on Boxing Day in front of a sell-out crowd of 5,000.
Saturday’s game will be preceded by a minute’s silence, acknowledging the twin tragedies seen in Jersey over the past week, with three fishermen lost at sea following a collision between two boats on December 8th and nine Islanders dying in an explosion in St Helier less than 48 hours later.
Jersey Reds squad v Bedford Blues (H) – 2022/23 RFU Championship, game 10/22, Stade Santander International, Saturday December 17th, k-o 2pm
Brendan Owen; Tomi Lewis, Charlie Powell, Dan Barnes, Will Brown; Russell Bennett, Jonny Law.
Sam Grahamslaw, Eoghan Clarke, Steve Longwell, Hamish Bain, Macauley Cook, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (capt), Tim Grey.
TJ Harris, Greg McGrath, Adam Nicol, Tom Everard, James Dun; James Mitchell, Alex McHenry, Ryan Hutler.
18 May 2023
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