Jersey will be seeking to spike the guns of visitors Bristol when the bookies' favourites for the Greene King IPA Championship title step out at St Peter tomorrow.
The visitors are in the seventh season of their quest for promotion back to the Aviva Premiership, having lost out by a single point to Worcester in the two-leg play-off final in May.
The men from the west of England have won on all three of their visits to Jersey in recent seasons, although not without a struggle on each occasion. 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 this year two late tries left Jersey empty-handed and frustrated after losing 17-27.
The home side will be keen to get a result against one of only two Championship sides they have never beaten and to maintain their excellent recent record at St Peter, with just one defeat in seven league games since Bristol's last visit.
After just one pre-season outing (a narrow home defeat to Cardiff Blues), Bristol began their league campaign with a home defeat to Bedford (23-29), but have since gained maximum points thanks to an away win at London Welsh (22-36) and victory against Nottingham at Ashton Gate (41-36).
Jersey will be seeking to deliver an 80-minute performance in front of their home support having twice lost half-time leads this season in defeats at Yorkshire Carnegie and Doncaster Knights.
Following the game at Castle Park, Jersey have lost the services of lock Pierce Phillips and flanker James Freeman due to injury, with Dave Markham and Gary Graham selected in their place. The starting pack will also feature tight-head Cosma Garfagnoli, making his first league appearance at St Peter after coming on as a replacement last weekend. The Italian's selection sees Danny Herriott switch to the bench.
In the back line Jack Moates and Mark McCrea return at scrum-half and left wing respectively, replacing Joel Dudley and Ross Adair. There is also a new face in midfield, with Ollie Evans in line to make his league debut for Jersey after being selected in place of former Bristol man Fautua Otto, who is ill.
Dudley and Adair drop to the bench, where there is also a place for former Bristol centre Mark Cooke, who is in line to make his league debut for the club he joined this summer.
The Greene King IPA Championship match will be part of a big rugby day at St Peter, with two Rugby World Cup games to be shown on the club's new screens later in the day: South Africa take on Samoa at 4.45pm, followed by England v Wales at 8pm.
Jersey squad v Bristol - Greene King IPA Championship, Saturday September 26th, St Peter, k-o 3pm
Alex Rae (capt)
31 Mar 2023
Five games remain to define Championship season