Jersey Reds take on Bristol this Sunday in what few would argue is the Island side's toughest challenge of the season.
The home side are well clear at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship and look certain to return to the Aviva Premiership in the coming weeks, following relegation last year. This weekend they will be seeking a club record 17th consecutive league win, with a crowd of around 8,000 likely to be in attendance at Ashton Gate.
The two sides met at Stade Santander International in October, when a burst of four tries in 10 minutes in the first half decided a match that eventually finished 19-36 in Bristol's favour, a smaller margin than in 10 of their 16 league wins so far this season.
Jersey will look to draw on a defensive record that has seen the concession of an average 20 points per game, and the fewest tries conceded (38) of any Championship club, but know this will be a formidable task against a team who are averaging 43 points per match.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon is at least able to recall the midfield duo who have been first choice at centre for much of the season, Mark Best and Apakuki Ma'afu. Co-captain Scott van Breda switches to full back, Jason Worrall is moved to wing in place of Josh Hodson, and George Eastwell drops to the bench.
The returns of Best and Ma'afu are among seven changes to the starting XV from the 24-32 home defeat to Ealing Trailfinders a fortnight ago. The others are all among the forwards, with front row trio Jake Woolmore, Nick Selway and Jake Armstrong restored en bloc, while James Voss and Conor Joyce return to the second and back rows respectively. Those with opportunities to impress from the bench include former Bristol prop Alec Clarey and 22-year-old Australian back row Jake Upfield.
Although the Reds' training week has been disrupted by wintry weather, Friday morning saw a thaw on the Channel Island and the travelling party are hopeful that there will be a similar improvement in weather conditions on the mainland by the time they embark on their flight to Southampton at lunchtime on Saturday prior to Sunday's game.
The clubs have met nine times in the Championship since 2012, with Jersey yet to record a win. Bristol's first trip to the Island in 2013 saw them claim a 23-29 victory, with Jersey claims for a potentially winning try in the dying minutes waved away. On four trips to Bristol, split equally between the Memorial Stadium and Ashton Gate, the Reds' best result has been the 40-29 defeat in April 2015 when the scored four of the game's nine tries to claim a bonus point.
Jersey Reds Athletic also have hopes to beat the weather this weekend, with Saturday's Zoo Shield game against Chinnor being hosted on the artificial surface at Aylesbury RFC (k-o 12.30pm).
Jersey Reds squad v Bristol Rugby (A) - Greene King IPA Championship, Round 17/22, Sunday March 4th, Ashton Gate, k-o 2pm
Scott Van Breda (co-capt)
Jake Woolmore (co-capt)
Jack Macfarlane, Roy Godfrey, Alec Clarey, Uili Kolo'ofa'i, Jake Upfield; Joel Dudley, George Eastwell.
02 Dec 2022
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