After 21 rounds of action spread across almost eighth months, the Greene King IPA Championship concludes this weekend.
Jersey Reds will wrap up their league programme on home turf at Stade Santander International with one of the most eagerly-awaited games of the season. Coventry returned to level two a year ago after nine seasons in National 1, and a large contingent of supporters is expected to descend on the Island to watch a double-header occasion that also features a curtain-raising 2nd XV game.
Although the Reds are guaranteed to finish at least fourth in the final table, beating their previous high water mark in the league structure of fifth, the home side will not lack for motivation. A win would enable them to push Bedford Blues (one point clear as things stand) all the way in the battle for third place, as well as atoning for some patchy home form in recent months, with four defeats in their last five outings at the Stade. There’s also revenge to be had, after ‘Cov’ came from behind for a 20-15 home win over Jersey on the first day of the season.
With a game to go, the visitors are lying eighth in the table and their tally of 46 points is the most by a promoted club since the Championship moved to its current 12-team format a decade ago. This achievement has been built on the back of a solid record at their Butts Park Arena home, where average crowds of around 2,200 have been the third-highest in the division.
Results away from home have been far less rewarding, but after 13 league and cup games on the road without a win, the Blue and Whites finally tasted success last Saturday in a high-scoring win over Doncaster Knights at Castle Park – it finished 33-41.
Jersey’s last game was an affair of two halves, with the Reds battling back from an 18-8 half-time deficit to get within a point of their hosts Nottingham before eventually losing 24-20.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon makes five changes to the XV that began the match at Lady Bay on Good Friday.
There’s a change in each row of the scrum. Roy Godfrey is back at loose-head after the birth of his first child last weekend, replacing Harry Morley, and will captain the side as second row Jerry Sexton is absent. Sexton, whose move to South African Guinness PRO14 outfit the Isuzu Southern Kings was confirmed this week, is replaced by Charlie Beckett, while in the back row Janco Venter comes in for Conor Joyce.
In the back line, Aaron Penberthy returns at fly-half, with Brett Herron moving to full-back and Leroy Van Dam to the wing in place of Jason Worrall. Jack Stapley is the other wing, taking James Newey’s place.
Several of the Nottingham starters feature on the bench: Morley, Joyce and Newey; and there are also opportunities for front rowers Jack Macfarlane and Zei Alexis, lock Liam Hallam-Eames and scrum-half Liam Howley.
The two clubs first met when Coventry toured Jersey in 1956, and again four years later, before next encountering each other in a brace of league matches in 2011/12. Both fixtures were won by the Island side: 29-3 at home and a memorable 13-37 success at Butts Park Arena which clinched the National 1 league title and promotion to the Championship. Cov have also visited the Island for pre-season matches in recent years.
The Championship match at 3pm will be preceded by a contest between Jersey Reds Athletic and Coventry 2nd XV (k-o 12noon). Many of the Athletic players will be having their final run-out before facing old rivals Guernsey in the Siam Cup on home turf on Saturday May 11th.
With a large crowd expected this weekend, supporters are urged to buy tickets in advance via the Eventbrite site and to arrive early to avoid last-minute queues that may build up at the gates.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Coventry (H) – Greene King IPA Championship Round 22/22, Saturday April 27th, Stade Santander International, k-o 3pm
Leroy Van Dam
Roy Godfrey (capt)
Jack Macfarlane, Harry Morley, Zei Alexis, Liam Hallam-Eames, Conor Joyce; Liam Howley, James Newey