Jersey and Doncaster Knights meet for the fourth time in as many months this weekend, with both clubs looking to combine encouraging league form with a British & Irish Cup run.
Leaders of pool 5 going into the final match of the group stage, the Knights are currently second in the Greene King IPA Championship and hoping to emulate their achievement of 2014/15 when they reached the final and lost out to Worcester.
Jersey lie fifth in the league and for the first time in four attempts have the chance of progressing to the knock-out stages of the B&I. Tomorrow's match at Castle Park will determine if the Islanders can seize the opportunity.
Games between the two clubs have been closely contested throughout the three seasons they have played at the same level. 2015/16 has been no exception, with a narrow Championship win by 31-27 for the Yorkshire side at Castle Park in September, followed by two draws at St Peter: 22-apiece in the opening round of the B&I Cup in November, and the 17-17 Championship encounter in apocalyptic weather conditions on the first Saturday of January.
Jersey set up the decisive final round tie thanks to a 24-12 home win last Saturday against the Newport Gwent Dragons Premiership Select side. The victory avenged a 30-27 defeat to the Welsh side in round two in November, although there was disappointment in the Jersey camp at falling short of a bonus point having crossed their opponents' try-line line three times in the opening 50 minutes.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon brings in eight players to his starting XV, including an all-changed front row trio of Sam Lockwood, Nick Selway and Oli Tomaszczyk. Will Rowlands comes in to partner skipper Pierce Phillips in the second row, while Gary Graham returns to the back row.
Jersey's back-line includes a recall for Fautua Otto, who partners Mark Cooke in midfield, while Brendan Cope returns to the fly-half berth and Ross Adair makes his first start at full-back after featuring previously as a wing.
Jersey's bench includes two new signings: 20-year-old fly-half Rory Jennings joined this week on a three-month loan deal from Aviva Premiership club Bath Rugby, while prop Simon Kerrod made his debut in last weekend's win over the Dragons. Club captain Alex Rae is also among the replacements. There is no place for Max Clark, another young player who has joined Jersey this week on loan from Bath for the rest of the season, although the 20-year-old centre will make the trip as the '23rd man' travelling reserve.
There are many permutations regarding the final round of pool games this weekend, the majority of which take place at the same time, as teams battle for the eight quarter-final berths.
Doncaster are one of three sides already guaranteed a knock-out place, but will want a win to maintain their unbeaten run and to ensure a home quarter-final. Jersey's over-riding aim is a win that will guarantee progression to the quarters. The Islanders also know that it's possible to win the pool if they can achieve the right split of match points: 0-4 or 0-5 would definitely achieve this goal, while a 1-5 split would lead to a tie-break on points difference. Anything less than a Jersey victory will leave the Islanders depending on bonus points and other results in order to keep their B&I campaign alive.
Following this weekend's trip to Yorkshire, Jersey return to action in the Greene King IPA Championship next weekend with another away trip when they will take on league leaders and promotion favourites Bristol at Ashton Gate. Their next match at St Peter will be when Moseley are the visitors on Saturday February 6th.
For more analysis of the B&I Cup qualification/KO scenarios, see HERE
Jersey v Doncaster Knights (A) - British & Irish Cup Pool 5, Saturday January 23rd, Castle Park, k-o 2pm
Pierce Phillips (capt)
31 Mar 2023
Five games remain to define Championship season