The second match of Jersey Reds' three-game pre-season series takes place at St Peter this weekend when Ampthill travel from Bedfordshire to take on Jersey Reds. Kick-off is at 3pm on Saturday, with £5 admission for all adults (free for under 18s).
Ampthill finished fourth in National One last season, just a point behind runners-up Hartpury College, and are once again expected to be among the contenders for the Nat 1 title. The only previous meetings between the clubs at 1st XV level were six years ago, when they met on the hallowed turf of Twickenham, and three months later at St Peter in a pre-season friendly.
The Reds come into the match on the back of a 47-5 victory in their opening hit-out of 2016/17 against another National One side, Coventry. The Reds scored seven tries, offering supporters an exciting glimpse of the potential of a new-look squad that has harnessed a raft of summer signings to the talent of those players who remain at the club from previous seasons.
Reds' Head Coach Harvey Biljon rotates his squad around to ensure that all players get game-time in pre-season in order to achieve match fitness and press their claim for places once league action commences in early September.
Captain Pierce Phillips is one of three forwards to retain their place, with Nick Haining and Max Argyle starting in the back row, albeit with their positions reversed - Argyle switches to blind-side flanker while Haining, scorer of two tries against Coventry, is at number 8. The five other forwards all get a chance to impress from the start having come on as replacements last weekend: flanker James Doyle, the front row trio of Sean McCarthy, Jack Macfarlane and Jake Armstrong, and James Voss, who will pack down alongside Phillips in the second row.
In the backs, Rich Lane has another start on the left wing, while Ross Adair switches from full-back to the opposite wing to allow Scotland international Jack Cuthbert to make his first start for the Reds at full-back. New signings Jordan Davies and George Eastwell link up in midfield, while the half-back pairing features Sam Katz, a summer signing from Spanish champions Hermi El Salvador and the longest-serving member of the Reds' squad, scrum-half Joel Dudley.
A nine-man bench features a five/four split of forwards and backs, with summer signing Marc Thomas set to make his Reds' debut. Fellow prop Simon Kerrod, hooker Joe Buckle and lock Nick Campbell are in line to play their first rugby of the new season.
Ampthill are coached by former Wales fly-half Paul Turner, whose son Tommy lives in Jersey and has played for the Island's 1st XV and Athletic sides. Having worked their way up the RFU pyramid following the introduction of league rugby in the late 1980s, Ampthill and Jersey were at the same level in 2009/10, winning National Three titles in the Midlands and London/South-East respectively. This qualified them for the short-lived Champions Play-Off series featuring four regional winners at level five, and after semi-final victories over Morley and Taunton, the two sides met at Twickenham.
Saturday May 8th 2010 was a day to remember, with upwards of 1,000 people making the journey to 'HQ' to support Jersey, and the travelling Island hordes were left celebrating: tries from Ashley Elphinston, Ed Dawson and Ashley Maggs and two Dan Hawkes' penalties sealed a 21-12 triumph.
Ampthill were due to join Jersey in National Two the following season, but their promotion was denied following RFU disciplinary proceedings, and it was another three seasons before they eventually made the jump from level five to four in 2013. The next two seasons saw the club claim runners-up places in National Two and contesting the promotion play-off two years running; first time out they lost 30-28 at Darlington Mowden Park, but in 2015 they won 19-10 at home to Bishop's Stortford.
There is a significant contingent of Pacific Islanders in the Ampthill squad for the trip to the largest of the Channel Islands. Veteran forwards Vili Ma'asi, Aleki Lutui, Paino Hehea and Maama Molitika have all been capped by Tonga, while centre Oris Nawaqaliva has represented Fiji at under 20 level.
Sadly there will be no clash of the Tongans at St Peter; Jersey scrum-half Sami Fisilau will serve the second instalment of a two-match ban following his red card against Yorkshire Carnegie in the final league match of last season, while Uili Kolo'ofa'i has an ankle injury.
Other names to look out for in the Ampthill squad are prop Brett Sturgess, making his debut for his new club after nine seasons with Exeter Chiefs and more than 100 Premiership appearances, and two other summer signings who have Championship experience - scrum-half Ben Calder from London Scottish and fly-half Steffan Jones (Bedford Blues). The visitors' full line-up and match preview is HERE
The Reds face a trio of pre-season games as Coventry, Ampthill and Aviva Premiership side Worcester Warriors (August 20th) visit St Peter. The Greene King IPA Championship season starts on the first weekend of September, when the Reds travel to London to take on Richmond; the first home league game of the season, when Bedford Blues will be the visitors, takes place on Saturday September 10th.
Tickets for the pre-season matches, as well as membership and season ticket packages for supporters for the 2016/17 season, plus a full list of confirmed fixtures to date, are available via the links below:
Jersey squad v Ampthill & District RUFC (H) - Pre-season match, Saturday August 13th, St Peter, k-o 3pm
Pierce Phillips (capt)
Joe Buckle, Marc Thomas, Simon Kerrod, Nick Campbell, James Freeman; Kieran Hardy, Brendan Cope, Lewis Robling, George Watkins
Why not get yourself a Hot Pot (Curry or Chilli served with rice) in the supporters marquee £8 per pot.