After a 24-karat appetiser in the shape of the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday morning, Newcastle Falcons and Jersey Reds will be seeking to deliver their own showpiece occasion when they lock horns at Kingston Park later in the day.
The round four clash in the Greene King IPA Championship is a summit meeting between the teams ranked first and third in the early-season league table. Falcons have three straight wins, while two bonus point wins on home turf against Coventry and Doncaster Knights, plus a consolation bonus in defeat at Ealing Trailfinders, have left the Reds two points adrift of the Falcons, with Coventry separating the two sides in second place.
It’ll be the second meeting between the sides this season, following a Championship Cup clash at Stade Santander International six weeks ago. The match was finely poised at half-time, with the visitors ahead 3-6, but two tries by replacement George Wacokecoke helped the Falcons pull clear, with Will Homer’s try the only second-half points for the hosts as it finished 8-21.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon has seen his squad hit by a significant number of injuries, notably in the backline where the current absentees include Liam Howley, Aaron Penberthy, Apakuki Ma’afu, Leroy Van Dam and Tom Williams.
New signing Brendan Owen is one of two additions to the backline from the starting line-up from last Friday’s 27-0 win over Doncaster, the other being James Newey, who will link up in midfield with Brendan Cope, who moves from fly-half. Cope’s previous role is taken by Greg Dyer, whose full-back shirt passes to Auguy Slowik.
The Reds’ pack sees just one change in personnel, with Leeroy Atalifo making his first appearance since returning from World Cup duty with Fiji in Japan. Atalifo comes in for Alec Clarey, and will join his club’s other World Cup returnee, back row man Janco Venter.
The three men making way from the starting XV in the last round – Clarey and centres Mark Best and George Spencer – are among the eight-man Jersey bench.
Prior to this season, the two sides met at the same level seven years ago. 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. On their visit to Jersey in November 2012, 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 their return from the North-East, the Reds will prepare for a home clash in round 5 against Nottingham – the match at Stade Santander International kicks off at 3pm on Saturday November 9th. Click HERE for tickets.
Jersey Reds Athletic will play a friendly match against fellow Island side the Royals this Saturday at 2pm at the Airport Playing Fields.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Newcastle Falcons (A) – Greene King IPA Championship Round 4/22, Kingston Park, k-o 1pm
Josh Bainbridge (capt)