Unbeaten Championship table London Irish are bringing their unbeaten league on an overseas tour this weekend. The Exiles and an estimated posse of 1,000 supporters will travel to Jersey, where the home-Island Reds will be laying in wait and looking to claim a notable scalp on their home turf.
Both teams are in good form, the Reds having eight straight wins in all competitions dating back to New Year's Day against Ealing Trailfinders. Irish also suffered a defeat in January, in an inconsequential B&I Cup pool match to Ospreys Select, but in the league they have reigned supreme, with 17 straight wins and just four dropped bonus points.
The Exiles are already assured of top spot in the Greene King IPA Championship rankings at the end of the regular season, but will need to negotiate the play-offs to secure their ambition of a return to the Aviva Premiership at the first time of asking. Jersey could yet join Irish in the top four, but have ground to make up on third-placed Ealing and Doncaster Knights in fourth.
The Reds are laying on a post-Paddy's party for the visiting hordes, with marquees, entertainment, selfie-booths, Irish stew and extra deliveries of the black stuff, but on the field the hosts will not be aiming to be as hospitable. On the weekend the clocks go forward, the Reds will be looking to hark back two years to the day when Championship leaders Worcester Warriors brought a 24-game unbeaten run to St Peter and were defeated 23-21.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon makes three changes to his starting XV for Saturday's match, which kicks off at 3pm, from the line-up originally selected for last weekend's 17-9 win over Rotherham Titans. Scrum-halves Joel Dudley and Kieran Hardy rotate, with the former taking the starting shirt, while Ross Adair is selected at wing ahead of Rich Lane.
The third change is at second row, with Dave McKern (pictured below by Rich Chapman) returning after a three-game absence in place of James Voss. An additional switch sees the return of Jordan Davies, a late withdrawal from the team to face Titans last Saturday - his return sees George Eastwell drop to the bench.
Reds' skipper James Freeman will make his 50th competitive appearance for the Island side as part of the familiar 'F-G-H' back-row unit with Gary Graham and Nick Haining.
With advance ticket sales moving beyond 1,000 on Friday morning, a favourable weather forecast and home supporters rallying to out-shout visitors dressed in the green of old Channel island rivals Guernsey, the home club are hoping to emulate the 2,909 attendance for the match against Worcester. The Reds' highest-ever attendance in their five seasons at Championship level was 3,154 who watched the relegation shoot-out with Doncaster Knights in April 2013.
The match is the first of back-to-back encounters between the sides, who will contest a British & Irish Cup semi-final at the Madejski Stadium in Reading on Sunday April 2nd. Jersey supporters may not be travelling in as great numbers as their counterparts this weekend, but they will have the chance to watch the match with a live and exclusive streaming at the Clubhouse in St Peter. Tickets are £15 per person to include Sunday lunch, or £5 'match-only.' Details available by clicking red linked text
In their previous encounter this season, the Reds played a full part in a nine-try thriller but eventually had to settle for a try bonus point in the 42-29 defeat at the Madejski in November.
Information for visiting supporters to Jersey this weekend is available elswhere on this site - click to link - key points include additional food and drink outlets, the large marquee available for post-match live music and MoM presentations, links to Liberty Bus timetables and advice about mobile phones and bringing sufficient cash to the ground due to minimal numbers of card payment facilities/ATMs. There'll also be a game between the clubs' under 15 sides at 11am on an adjacent pitch (although the main ground won't be open at that stage)
The next games at St Peter are Jersey Reds Athletic v Worthing on Saturday April 1st, and the final league match of the regular Championship season when the 1st XV host Richmond on Easter Saturday, April 15th. Both games kick-off at 3pm.
Jersey Reds squad v London Irish (H) - Greene King IPA Championship Round 20, Saturday March 25th, St Peter; k-o 3pm
James Freeman (capt)
Nick Selway, Sean McCarthy, Jake Armstrong, Uili Kolo'ofa'i, Max Argyle; Kieran Hardy, George Eastwell.
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