The long-awaited return of competitive rugby for clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship takes place this weekend, 17 weeks after the conclusion of the 2018/19 season.
Three rounds of the Championship Cup will serve as a prelude to the league campaign, and Jersey Reds have an attention-grabbing opener as Newcastle Falcons visit Stade Santander International.
The match is the visitors’ first since relegation from the Gallagher Premiership last May, with Director of Rugby Dean Richards expected to bring a squad packed with top-flight experience.
Reds’ DoR Harvey Biljon hands opportunities to five of his summer signings in the starting XV. Half-backs Luc Jones and Greg Dyer will make their competitive debuts, as does Welsh winger Tom Williams, who joins Leroy Van Dam and Auguy Slowik in the back three. In the absence of injured skipper Apakuki Ma’afu, Mark Best and James Newey form the centre partnership.
The other competitive debuts are in the pack: hooker TJ Harris, who moved to the Island from Wasps in June, will pack down alongside props Harry Morley and Alec Clarey. Charlie Beckett and Rory Bartle are paired in the second row, with the back row made up of new signing Josh Bainbridge, Conor Joyce and captain Max Argyle.
With benches for clubs in the Championship and Championship Cup increased to eight players this season, Biljon opts for a 5:3 split of forwards and backs. Front row options are provided by Jack Macfarlane, Roy Godfrey and Zei Alexis, while there’s a potential competitive debut for lock Alex Thompson and back row cover from Jake Upfield. Biljon’s options in the backs comprise scrum-half Will Homer, fly-half Brendan Cope who returned to the Reds this summer after a year with Yorkshire Carnegie, and another new signing, centre George Spencer.
While the visitors did not schedule any pre-season matches, the Reds played three games. The diverse trio of challenges was made up of National 1 opponents Old Elthamians, the Russian national side en route to the Rugby World Cup, and Guinness PRO14 outfit the Scarlets.
Newcastle Falcons are returning to Jersey this weekend almost seven years after their only previous visit in November 2012. Doing the double over the Reds in 2012/13 helped the Falcons bounce back to the Premiership, where they’d spent 14 seasons between 1997 and 2012, at the first attempt. Dean Richards’ men were shocked to find themselves behind early in the game but recovered to eventually win 24-3 thanks to tries by Jimmy Gopperth, Ryan Shortland, James Hall and Alex Tait.
The return match at Kingston Park was staged on Good Friday 2013, with the visitors from Jersey competitive for the majority of the game before two late tries helped the home side pull clear to finish 34-12 winners.
After this weekend’s cup opener, the Reds face successive away trips to Hartpury and Doncaster in the next two rounds of the cup before they return to Stade Santander International on Saturday October 12th. Coventry will be the visitors for the opening round of the Greene King IPA Championship.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Newcastle Falcons (H) – Championship Cup Pool 2, Round 1/6, Saturday September 21st, Stade Santander International, k-o 3pm
Backs (15-9): Auguy Slowik; Tom Williams, James Newey, Mark Best, Leroy Van Dam; Greg Dyer, Luc Jones
Forwards (1-8): Harry Morley, TJ Harris, Alec Clarey, Charlie Beckett, Rory Bartle, Conor Joyce, Josh Bainbridge, Max Argyle (capt)
Replacements (16-23): Jack Macfarlane, Roy Godfrey, Zei Alexis, Alex Thompson, Jake Upfield; Will Homer, Brendan Cope, George Spencer