Having played just one league game at Stade Santander International so far this season, there’ll be no place like home for Jersey Reds this Saturday.
After a four-week hiatus since the 40-28 win over Bedford Blues, the Reds welcome another Bedfordshire club, Ampthill & District, to the Stade.
It’s the first time the ‘Mob’ will play a competitive 1st XV game on the Island, having had their original ‘maiden voyage’ in March 2020 cancelled at five days’ notice as a result of the pesky pandemic.
Both sides come into the game on the back of defeats: Jersey lost 27-24 to Doncaster Knights at Castle Park a fortnight ago, but have nevertheless accrued 11 points from three games, equalling 2019/20 as their best-ever start to a league season at level two; Ampthill lost out at home in their county derby as Bedford triumphed 34-53.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon has rung the changes to his starting XV, including three new faces among the backs. Fly-half Sam Leeming will make his competitive debut for the Reds, 15 months after moving to the Island and being diagnosed – weeks later – with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
James Elliott returns to the line-up to partner Leeming, while Jordan Holgate comes into midfield to partner Dan Barnes, as Jack Roberts moves to the bench. After stepping up to the fly-half berth in recent games, Brendan Owen reverts to more familiar territory as he replaces Harry Simmons at full-back.
Among the starting forwards there are two changes: Luke Yendle, signed on loan from the Dragons last month, is given a first start at tight-head, while Zak Farrance gets a chance in the second row as Sean O’Connor moves to the bench.
The two clubs first crossed paths in 2009/10, when they were champions of their respective divisions at level 5, then referred to as National 3, and after victorious semi-finals were paired on the grandest of rugby stages – Twickenham. Jersey claimed the silverware with a 21-12 victory.
The two teams met in a pre-season friendly at St Peter in August 2010, with Jersey winning 26-14, and again six years later with a similar margin of victory for the home side: 35-22.
The Reds and the Mob have met twice previously in the Championship, both times at the Grange/ Land Rover Bowl, as the main arena at Dillingham Park is known.
In November 2019, the Reds held a narrow 17-19 lead at the break, and with an hour gone it was 31-33, but the visitors then pulled clear and finished the winners by 38-47.
When the 2020/21 season finally kicked off, the two sides played out a lower-scoring encounter in May of this year, with the Reds grabbing a try bonus point during the last play to make the final score 14-29.
The two clubs will also contest a 2nd XV game in the Raging Bull Shield on the same day, with Jersey Reds Athletic making the trip to Bedfordshire for a match that kicks off at 2pm.
Once the arena at Stade Santander International is cleared on Saturday, the Reds will make final preparations for the arrival on Monday of the England squad, who will be staging a five-day training camp in Jersey ahead of the autumn international fixtures against Tonga, Australia and South Africa.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Ampthill & District (H) – RFU Championship, Match 4/20, Stade Santander International, Saturday October 23rd 2021, k-o 2.30pm [*= competitive debut]
Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Jordan Holgate, Dan Barnes, Will Brown; Sam Leeming*, James Elliott; James Flynn, Eoghan Clarke, Luke Yendle, Zak Farrance, Macauley Cook, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (capt), Guy Thompson.
TJ Harris, Huw Owen*, Jack Higgins, Sean O’Connor, Alex Humfrey, Wes White, Jack Roberts, Harry Simmons.
Why not come a chillout in the supporters marquee before the game, A fully stocked bar and food is available, seated and standing tables, on a first come first served basis and a great place to meet the Reds supporters.