Only the best is likely to be good enough for Jersey Reds as they prepare for the final four-game stretch of the RFU Championship season.
The Reds travel to Castle Park in Doncaster, a ground where they haven’t won for more than four-and-a-half years and where the going has been tough for visitors so far this season, Doncaster Knights having won nine of their 11 competitive games on home turf.
The Yorkshire club’s squad will also be motivated to gain revenge for an agonising defeat at Jersey hands last October. The Knights were 19-7 behind within the last five minutes, but tries from Harry Davey and Mak Wilson sparked hopes of at least sharing the spoils until a last-kick conversion went wide and the game finished 19-17.
The closeness of the autumn match-up at Stade Santander International, in which TJ Harris, Scott Van Breda and Will Brown scored first-half tries for the Reds, was typical of the history of tight games between the sides. The Jersey win gave them 11 wins to the Knights’ 10 across 23 league and cup encounters since 2012, with two draws.
After some ruthless displays by their side in recent weeks, the Reds’ coaching team has once again rung the changes in a bid to maintain a wider match-hardened squad beyond the XXIII selected for any particular game. The starting line-up against the Knights shows seven new faces compared with the XV that began last weekend’s 52-10 home win over Nottingham.
Stevie Longwell come into the front row to join Sam Grahamslaw and James Hadfield, while Sean O’Connor is back to partner James Scott in the engine room.
Skipper Lewis Wynne is another returnee – the only change in a back row also featuring James Dun and Alun Lawrence.
Outside the unchanged half-back duo of James Mitchell and Russell Bennett, Brendan Owen returns at full-back which allows Tomi Lewis to revert to wing where he will line up opposite Ben Woollett, who played 76 minutes of the Nottingham game after coming on for the unfortunate Ryan Hutler.
As well as the return of prop Greg McGrath for his first game in five weeks, the Jersey bench features a potential debut for former Scarlets scrum-half Luke Davies, who arrived on the Island in late March to provide cover at number 9 over the final weeks of the season and gets an early opportunity as a result of James Elliott missing out through injury.
Last season the two sides were among a cluster of four teams at the top of the table in late February, but the Reds fell away slightly and it was the Knights who pushed Ealing Trailfinders all the way, eventually finishing runners-up, just three points behind the Londoners.
During the 2021/22 campaign, the Knights completed a double over the Reds, winning 27-24 on home turf in October and 19-35 in Jersey in January. The Reds’ most recent win at Castle Park was also by some distance the highest-scoring encounter between the sides, the visitors crossing for seven tries in October 2018 in delivering a final result of 22-47.
The rearranged Easter Saturday match, originally scheduled for March 11th, is the first of back-to-back away trips for the Reds, who will visit Bedford Blues on Saturday April 15th. Then it will be back to the Island for a brace of games at Stade Santander International, starting with the visit of league leaders Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday April 22nd.
There will be home action this weekend for the Jersey RFC amateur side, who will play a friendly against Cinderford United at 3.15pm on Saturday.
Jersey Reds squad v Doncaster Knights (A) – 2022/23 RFU Championship, game 19/22, Castle Park, Saturday April 8th, k-o 1pm
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Dan Barnes, Tomi Lewis; Russell Bennett, James Mitchell.
Sam Grahamslaw, James Hadfield, Stevie Longwell, James Scott, Sean O’Connor, James Dun, Lewis Wynne (capt), Alun Lawrence.
Eoghan Clarke, Greg McGrath, Adam Nicol, Tom Everard, Max Argyle; Luke Davies, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown.
18 May 2023
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