The final stretch of a competitive Championship campaign continues at Stade Santander International this Saturday as Jersey Reds line up for a tilt at title favourites Ealing Trailfinders.
The visitors from London were so keen to ensure the fixture goes ahead amid stormy weather that they brought forward their travel to Jersey by 24 hours and had arrived safely in time for a late lunch on Thursday.
While the home side are keen to reverse a run of poor results against their old rivals and extend their recent four-match winning streak in the Championship, the Trailfinders will be desperate to return to winning ways after a shock home defeat to Bedford Blues.
The Blues won 19-31 at Vallis Way last weekend, becoming the first of the current members of the Championship to win at Ealing’s home ground for more than five years. With two previous defeats for Trailfinders this season having resulted in huge points hauls the following week – 78 after an early-season loss in Cornwall and 54 following the reverse to Doncaster Knights in November – the Reds should be ready for a backlash.
Currently the Island side lie second in the table, just behind leaders Donny and narrowly ahead of Ealing and Cornish Pirates. The latter duo both have two games in hand, but all four sides have contributed to a hotly-contested battle for the Championship title thus far.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon makes six changes to his starting XV from the line-up which began the 31-40 win at Hartpury last weekend, four of them among the forwards.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke and prop Steve Longwell join Roy Godfrey in the front row, with Harry Doolan and Luke Yendle ready to make an impact from the bench, while Macauley Cook is promoted from the bench to the second row berth he has occupied for most of the season, swapping with Tom Everard.
The Reds’ back row has become a competitive area with players like Guy Thompson and Tim Grey returning from injury and the arrival of Alun Lawrence on loan from Cardiff. Lawrence gets the nod for the number 8 shirt and is promoted from the bench in place of Grey.
Among the backs, James Mitchell and Ryan Olowofela return in place of James Elliott and Ryan Hutler. Elliott is one of two backs on the bench, alongside Dan Barnes who is set to make a welcome return from injury after last playing in the win over London Scottish a week before Christmas.
The Reds gave a good account of themselves at Vallis Way when the two sides met in November, leading narrowly at half-time before eventually going down 35-29 and having to settle for two bonus points.
A 35-7 win on home turf in December 2015 remains the lone Jersey win in 13 league matches at this level, with one further success from three Championship Cup encounters. Any Red bragging rights that exist are of the lingering, historic variety: three wins in four National League encounters between 2010 and 2012, reaching the Championship a year ahead of their rivals and then retaining their level two status in April 2014 courtesy of the ‘Great Escape’ win at Bedford and a home defeat by Rotherham for Trailfinders on the same day.
Saturday’s game will be preceded with recognition for two shocking incidents at rugby clubs last weekend. Dale Smith was a spectator at the Hartpury v Jersey Reds match last weekend, with the game being halted after he became suddenly unwell. Although he received immediate medical assistance, Mr Smith sadly died in hospital on Tuesday. Evesham RFC’s Jack Jeffrey played in a match in Kenilworth last Saturday, but died soon after the game having sustained an injury in the act of scoring a try. Both members of the Rugby Family will be remembered during a minute’s applause prior to kick-off at the Stade.
Two other Reds teams will be in action this weekend, with Jersey Reds Athletic travelling to play a friendly at Cinderford (k-o 12.45pm on Saturday) following the cancellation of a Raging Bull Shield game at Wimbledon. On Sunday Jersey Reds Women travel to play Pulborough, with kick-off at 1.30pm.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Ealing Trailfinders (H) – RFU Championship match 17/20, Stade Santander International, Saturday February 19th 2022, k-o 3pm
Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Scott Van Breda, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown; Tom Pittman, James Mitchell.
Roy Godfrey, Eoghan Clarke, Steve Longwell, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (capt), Alun Lawrence.
Harry Doolan, James Flynn, Luke Yendle, Tom Everard, Alex Humfrey, James Elliott, Dan Barnes, Tim Grey
Why not come a chillout in the supporters marquee before the game, A fully stocked bar and food is available, seated and standing tables, on a first come first served basis and a great place to meet the Reds supporters.