The first chilly blast of winter may be due to sweep the British Isles this weekend, even reaching the southernmost extremities, but a match-up between Jersey Reds and Cornish Pirates should be enough to warm the cockles.
After almost a decade of rivalry in the Championship, the two sides have established a tradition of closely-fought battles, and there’s also a narrow margin in the current league standings, with the Cornishmen lying second in the table, three points ahead of their third-placed hosts.
The rivals have at least one other thing in common this season, as the only sides to have been in a proper contest with league leaders and promotion favourites Ealing Trailfinders. The Pirates beat the Londoners 15-12 at the Mennaye at the start of October, but Ealing’s other games this season saw winning margins of between 34 and 94 points until they were taken all the way by the Reds last weekend, the game finishing 35-29.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon makes four changes to his starting XV from the line-up who took on the Trailfinders. Two of the changes are in the front row: James Flynn comes in at loose-head as Roy Godfrey moves to the bench, while Eoghan Clarke starts at hooker as TJ Harris misses out.
Among the backs, James Mitchell will wear #9 as he performs the rotational hokey-cokey with fellow scrum-half James Elliott, while wing Ryan Olowofela misses out after a shoulder injury at Ealing and is replaced by Harry Simmons.
Fresh faces on the Reds’ bench include teenage Jerseyman Harry Doolan, hoping to gain his second taste of league action in the front row, and midfielder Jordan Holgate, back after injury at Richmond four weeks ago.
There’s not usually much between the Reds and the Pirates: since the two clubs met in September 2012, in what was the Island side’s first-ever fixture at level two, there’s invariably been not much of a margin on the full-time scoreboard, with 12 of the 16 league fixtures ending with the losing side within six points of their opponents.
Most recently the Reds withstood a late Pirates’ fightback at the Stade in May in the final round of the truncated 2020/21 campaign, winning 32-31. This was the second time the Reds had emerged victors by a single point, having also won 7-8 at the Mennaye Field in March 2019, in addition to defeating their Cornish rivals by two points on four occasions.
In contrast to the regular acquisition of losing bonus points, try bonus points have been in very short supply in the 16 Championship games: the Reds grabbed one in May, with the only previous TBP being earned by the Pirates after a 28-26 defeat on the Island in April 2015.
Overall the sides have met on 21 occasions, including four cup clashes and a pre-season encounter in February this year, with the Reds having 11 wins to Pirates’ 10.
Jersey Reds Athletic will also be in action this Saturday, with an away trip to Reading to take on Rams 2nd XV in the Raging Bull Shield.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Cornish Pirates (H) – RFU Championship match 8/20, Stade Santander International, Saturday November 27th 2021, k-o 2.15pm
Brendan Owen; Harry Simmons, Jack Roberts, Dan Barnes, Will Brown; Sam Leeming, James Mitchell.
James Flynn, Eoghan Clarke, Steve Longwell, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (capt), Wesley White.
Harry Doolan, Roy Godfrey, Luke Yendle, Alex Humfrey, Guy Thompson; James Elliott, Tom Pittman, Jordan Holgate.
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