Old rivals get ready to square up for the Siam
The second-oldest trophy in world rugby will be contested between two old rivals this weekend. Guernsey are hosting the 2014 Siam Cup, sponsored this year for the first time by Ipes, a leading European provider of fund administration and outsourcing services to the private equity industry.
Although there are still a few local league issues to be settled, the Siam retains its place as the finale of the rugby season in the Channel Islands. The rival Islands compete three levels apart in the English rugby pyramid, but league status will once again be put to one side as Guernsey's amateur players take on their professional counterparts from across the water.
Suggestions that some form of residency or birth qualification might be introduced in a bid to level the playing field were rejected in favour of full-strength teams.
For the second year running Guernsey have achieved the better playing record in their respective divisions. While Jersey have just avoided survived again in the RFU Championship, finishing 11th after a thrilling last-day win at Bedford last Saturday, Guernsey achieved a solid 5th-place finish in National Three South-East.
The Sarnians actually won just two of their first 10 league games of the season, but the turn-around since then has been impressive - just three defeats in their last 16 matches. They will hope this form gives them a chance of winning the trophy for the first time since 2007.
There will also be Veterans, Ladies and 2nd XV games as part of a festival of rugby, for which the £10 stand seats are sold out, leaving ground admission tickets at £5. The visiting party will mainly be making a day-trip, travelling over on planes and ferries, and returning together on the ferry in the evening, hoping to encounter slightly calmer seas than Jersey's junior players and their supporters faced last weekend after the Junior Siam. Put it this way - we're hoping the craft has been suitably hosed down since then...
Siam Cup squads
Harvey Biljon has selected his strongest-available squad for this weekend's game. Injury deprives Jersey of some key players, notably in the backs where Drew Locke, Aaron Penberthy and Grant Pointer will be absent, while lock Nick Campbell rests the foot injury he's been playing with during the final weeks of the season.
The Jersey XV features five graduates of the club's Academy, including lock James Voss who makes his final appearance before heading for a Gloucester RFC scholarship at Hartpury College. Jon Brennan captains the side, although this shouldn't be taken as an indication that the long-serving prop forward may not feature in the 1st XV next season.
Jon Brennan (capt)
Elvis Taione, Nick Selway, Sam Lockwood, Dave Markham, Ben Maidment, Jimmy Williams, James Copsey, Joel Dudley
1 - Cameron Craine, 2 - Tom Ceillam, 3 - Layton Batiste, 4 - Lewis Hillier, 5 - Nick Merrien, 6 - Matt Thomas, 7 - Robin Le Cocq, 8 - Nick Barton. 9 - Dale Rutledge, 10 - Matt Ball, 11 - Shane Taylor, 12 - Blair Campbell, 13 - Ben McDougall, 14 - Jason Batiste, 15 - Sam Whitehead.
Dale Garner, Tom Hobbs, Darrin Bellingham, Kyle Garner, Nile Dacres, David O'Hanlon, Luke Sayer, Ben Challinor.
History of the Siam Cup
According to a family history of the Forty family, the Siam Cup was presented by CH Forty, an officer based in Siam with the Durham Light Infantry, in 1912, however it was not used as a rugby trophy until 1920, and was first contested between Island sides in 1935. Further historical information can be obtained elsewhere on the JRFC site.
The dangers of complacency by the higher-ranked side, Jersey, have been underlined in recent years. On the two occasions in the past decade, the Siam Cup has been Jersey's last game of a promotion-winning season, and they have lost.
In 2005 Jersey took the London 3 South-West title by a large margin. A week after the final league game, Guernsey claimed a 28-24 win at St Peter - their first Siam success in a decade.
Three years later, Jersey won another promotion after a London 2 play-off victory over Staines. A week later, and Guernsey were 22-13 victors at Footes Lane.
2008 was the Sarnians most recent victory. Since then Jersey won further promotions in 2010 and 2011, but in both these years the Siam came as part of the build-up to the climactic games against Ampthill (the National 3 championship game at Twickenham) and Loughborough (the National 2 play-off), with players playing for their places. On both occasions a focused Jersey side inflicted heavy defeats.
The Siam Cup this century
2000: Jersey 54 Guernsey 20. At the time, Jersey's second-highest points tally in Siam history, beaten only by the 69 registered in 1997
2001: Guernsey 12 Jersey 32
2002: Jersey 23 Guernsey 8
2003: Guernsey 0 Jersey 27
2004: Jersey 32 Guernsey 22 (the smallest margin among nine straight Jersey wins)
2005: Jersey 24 Guernsey 28. A second-successive home game for Jersey due to development work at Footes Lane in Guernsey. International referee Donal Courtney sends off Jersey's Roger Quirk, and sin-bins his colleague Steve O'Brien, in a fiery encounter, and a 74th-minute try by Tom Smit seals the win. The 4-point winning margin is the smallest in any Siam Cup since 1988 (Guernsey 12 Jersey 8) and before that the 3-3 draw in 1978
2006: Guernsey 13 Jersey 38. An easy win for Jersey, and another flurry of cards including a red for Matt Banahan in his second and final (to date) Siam appearance. One of Guernsey's water-boys invades the pitch, a move he quickly comes to regret. Oh, and the whole thing is captured on video and placed on Youtube where 138,000 people have now seen it
2007: Jersey 8 Guernsey 17. A gritty away win for the Sarnians in the lowest-scoring Siam since an 18-3 win for Jersey in 1991
2008: Guernsey 22 Jersey 13. Guernsey lead 10-8 at half-time and 15-13 with minutes to play before sealing the win through a late try
2009: Jersey 34 Guernsey 6. Two Tommy Turner tries help Jersey to an easy win in a game refereed by Luke Pearce, then aged 21, who has since gone on to the Premiership and IRB Sevens circuit
2010: Guernsey 0 Jersey 36. Ashley Maggs gets two tries, altho' Jersey's pack outdoes the backs with tries by Trower, Brownrigg and Kemp
2011: Jersey 73 Guernsey 5. An 11-try rout, with James Copsey and Donovan Sanders both claiming hat-tricks, sparks fears about the future of the Siam. REPORT
2012: Guernsey 0 Jersey 29. The worst Siam weather in recent memory has an effect on the game, with scoring at one end of the ground virtually impossible all day. Jersey ground out a half-time lead through tries by Guy Thompson (2), Glenn Bryce and a penalty try, and that was also the final score. REPORT
2013: Jersey 41 Guernsey 8. Jersey say goodbye to a host of players who were either leaving the Island or not graduating to full-time status: Glenn Bryce, Ashley Maggs, Mike Le Bourgeois, Dave McCormack, Brendan O'Brien, Richard Barrington, Nathan Hannay, Graham Bell, Kingsley Lang, Eoghan Nihill and Talite Vaioleti. A certain lack of focus in the early stages leaves Guernsey 0-8 up after half an hour, and even tries by McCormack, Felton and Maggs leave it poised at 17-8 at the break. Just one further try, by Leeds-bound Hannay, happens in the first 30 minutes of the second period, but the home crowd are sent home happy when wingers Dawson and Levesley (2) race over in the final 10 minutes. REPORT
Overall tally (based on figures in the 2004 Siam Cup programme): Jersey 57 wins; Guernsey 13 wins; 3 games drawn
Guernsey RFC History
Guernsey Rugby Union Football Club was founded in January 1928. Although there are records of rugby union being played in the Island as far back as the 19th century. The game gave way to soccer until the Guernsey Rugby Club was formed. Initially the club only ran one side and had a membership of 20-30. The club now runs three senior sides, a youth team and a very active junior section.
The first team has competed in the English national leagues since 1987. Guernsey and Jersey were last in the same league when they competed in Hampshire One (Level 9) in 1994/95.
In the Siam-Cup winning season of 2004/05, Guernsey finished second in London 4 SW and were promoted to Level 7, at that stage just one level behind Jersey.
In subsequent seasons the Sarnians became a stronger presence at this level, finishing 10th, 5th, 4th and 7th before taking the runners-up spot in 2009/10, only to lose a play-off at Hove by 17-14.
But in 2010/11 they took the league title by a point from Trojans, thanks to a bonus point in defeat (15-16) on the final day of the season against their Hampshire rivals - their only home loss that season. In 2011/12 the Sarnians lost just three games - at Old Elthamians and Sidcup in September, and against Portsmouth the following month. They then won 18 straight matches, enabling them to win London 1 South at the first time of asking. The Greens finished with 111 points, three ahead of Old Elthamians (who subsequently won the play-off), and a F/A points record of 951/ 317.
Guernsey have now played two seasons National 3 SE - Level 5. In 2012/13 they achieved a solid mid-table finish - 8th with 12 wins out of 26 games, and have just finished with a three-place improvement.
Other rugby this weekend
There are three other Jersey v Guernsey games on Saturday:
10.30am - The Nash Cup - Guernsey Vets v Jersey Wanderers
11am - The Ladies Siam - Guernsey v Jersey
12.30pm - The Fallaize Cup - Guernsey 2nds v Jersey 2nds
Back in Jersey, a JRA Barbarians side will take on French tourists from Valognes (near Cherbourg) at St Peter (pitch 4) at 3pm.
Many of the main promotion and relegation issues around the leagues were settled last weekend, but the National Two play-off takes place with Darlington Mowden Park hosting Ampthill for the right to join Macclesfield and Hartpury on the ladder to National One.
There's no Championship action, with the first legs of the play-offs not until May 10th and 11th, but Bristol and Leeds will play their British & Irish Cup semi-final at the Memorial Stadium, for the right to play Leinster 'A' in the final, the Irish having squeezed past Pontypridd on try-count after a 22-22 draw at the Sardis Road (a house of pain for the hosts that afternoon) and a scoreless period of extra time, watched by 5,200 people.
The penultimate round of the Aviva Premiership takes place this weekend, and unless Worcester can get a win at Saracens on Saturday, they will be relegated to the Championships. Even an unlikely success in North London would not be enough if Newcastle were to beat London Wasps at Adams Park.
It was great to meet J.C.M. Robertson at the club recently, the man who refereed the 1964 Siam Cup. He passed on a copy of the programme from that year - a slightly less glossy publication than will be on sale today, but nevertheless containing the essential team info, including an 'out-half' and two 'wing-forwards' in each team. And no replacements, a far cry from today when more than half of each starting XV could potentially have been replaced by full-time.
And we'd also like to congratulate former Jersey player Ben Evans. Last week the cuddly Welshman captained the Barbarians against Clontarf in Ireland, played his final game for Moseley in the Championship and boarded a plane for Australia. On arrival, before leaving the airport, he had dropped to the floor and proposed to girlfriend Liz, who fortunately answered in the affirmative.
For the last time this season - enjoy your weekend's rugby!
Why not get yourself a Hot Pot (Curry or Chilli served with rice) in the supporters marquee £8 per pot.