After a rivalry stretching back more than a decade, Jersey Reds and Cornish Pirates are unlikely to lack motivation whenever they lock horns, and this Friday at Stade Santander International will be no exception.
The home side are looking to maintain a perfect start to their Championship campaign, having won their first three league matches for the first time in 11 seasons at level two. While the Pirates are nursing the pain of a heavy home defeat by Bedford Blues, which will leave them relishing a tilt at the league leaders.
After ringing the changes for the trip to London Scottish last weekend, Jersey Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon reverts – with two exceptions – to the starting XV which took on Ampthill and Coventry in the previous rounds.
Injury to Scott Van Breda against the Exiles means Brendan Owen comes in at full-back, while James Elliott earns the start at scrum-half after an energetic display at the Richmond Athletic Ground, including a try in the first minute of the second half, with James Mitchell staying on the bench.
A total of nine players come into the starting XV in comparison with the line-up that started the game against Scottish, which the visitors won 21-55. Wing Tomi Lewis is one, with Will Brown having to make do with a bench spot after his hat-trick at the RAG, while Jordan Holgate and Alex McHenry are reunited in midfield.
Among the forwards, Sam Grahamslaw and TJ Harris return to the front row, linking up with Steve Longwell, while Sean O’Connor and Macauley Cook are paired in the second row, a partnership that featured regularly last season. Skipper Lewis Wynne and Alun Lawrence retain their places in the back row, with James Dun returning in place of Max Argyle.
Since their first meeting at the Stade on September 1st 2012 - a 6-20 win for the men from Cornwall - the two sides have made a habit of contesting close games. In 18 league matches over the past 10 years, the losing side has gained a bonus point on 13 occasions, while just once has a team walked away with a bonus-point win: Jersey’s 32-31 victory on home turf in May 2021.
Including four cup meetings, the clubs have met competitively on 22 occasions, with the Reds winning 12 to Pirates’ 10.
The brace of league meetings last season were split one apiece; at the Stade in November, with force eight northerly winds, squally showers and a biting windchill all in evidence, the first half looked set to end scoreless until the Reds drove towards the line in the final minute and earned a penalty try (pictured below by Rich Chapman) as their maul was collapsed. A Wes White try and five points from Sam Leeming’s boot stretched the lead during the second half and a late Robin Wedlake try couldn’t prevent the visitors going home empty-handed – it finished 15-5.
At the Mennaye Field in February, the Reds made a blistering start, scoring two tries within eight minutes through Cook and Dan Barnes, both converted. The visitors had several other chances in the first half, but could only add a late penalty and the Pirates were relieved to be only 10 points down at the interval thanks to Tom Channon’s try. Channon crossed again early in the second half, with Tom Kessell adding a third and the home side holding out to win 21-17.
At the start of that most recent encounter the two sides were separated by just a point in the league table and each nursing hopes of a tilt at the Championship title. But defeat spelled the end of Jersey dreams, leaving a three-horse race at the top. A winning run could have sent the trophy down the A30 to Penzance, but in the event the Pirates lost two of their next three games and Ealing Trailfinders went on to claim top-spot.
Jersey Reds squad v Cornish Pirates (H) – 2022/23 RFU Championship game 4/22, Stade Santander International, Saturday September 17th, k-o 7.15pm
Starting backs (15-9)
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Jordan Holgate, Tomi Lewis; Russell Bennett, James Elliott.
Starting forwards (1-8)
Sam Grahamslaw, Antonio ‘TJ’ Harris, Steve Longwell, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, James Dun, Lewis Wynne (c), Alun Lawrence.
Eoghan Clarke, Greg McGrath, Monty Weatherby, Hamish Bain, Max Argyle; James Mitchell, Charlie Powell, Will Brown.
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