At the end of a week when the red envelopes from Twickenham to Championship clubs contained dire financial news rather than Valentine’s cards, Jersey Reds and their hosts this weekend, Doncaster Knights, will be pleased to be back in action on the rugby pitch.
The two clubs, who along with their counterparts at level two were rocked on Tuesday by the bombshell of a 40% cut in RFU funding branded “immoral and irresponsible” by the Reds, will face off for the fourth time this season at Castle Park on Saturday. While it promises to be a no-holds barred encounter on the pitch, it is also hoped that the fixture will showcase the love for English rugby’s second tier.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon and his squad have been striving to focus on rugby matter this week, and will be looking to bounce back after back-to-back defeats. Both were narrow reverses: by 27-25 at Bedford thanks to a last-gasp converted try, and then 24-28 on home turf to second-placed Ealing Trailfinders in a game where the lead changed hands seven times.
Biljon brings four new players into the starting XV from the line-up who faced Ealing at Stade Santander International last Saturday and also makes two positional switches.
The starting pack is unchanged from 1-7, with the lone change being the return of Janco Venter at number 8 in place of Kyle Hatherell, who moves to the bench.
Most of the changes are among the Jersey back five, where outside centre Rodney Iona is the only player who’ll retain the same shirt number worn against Ealing. On-loan centre Connor Edwards has been ruled out, which means Brendan Cope moves forward from full-back. Auguy Slowik shuffles across from wing to replace Cope, and Jack Stapley comes in to take Slowik’s spot. James Newey will line up on the other wing, with Alex Morgan also ruled out.
The Reds bench includes a new loan signing in Worcester Warriors hooker Beck Cutting, who makes a short-term move to the Island to cover injuries to Nic Dolly and Jack Macfarlane. The 21-year-old is set to become the latest Premiership young gun to benefit from the experience of playing for the Reds, following in the footsteps of players like Will Rowlands, Callum Sheedy and Tom Howe, regulars in the 1st team line-ups at Wasps, Bristol and Worcester respectively.
In 18 matches between the sides at this level, including both league and cup, there have been 10 Jersey wins, six for the Knights and two draws. The Yorkshire side took the honours at Castle Park in October with a 32-26 Championship Cup win, but the Reds have won both subsequent encounters on home turf: 27-0 in October’s league fixture, and by 27-17 in the cup at the end of November.
The next two weekends feature back-to-back away games for the Reds, who will take on Ealing at Vallis Way on Saturday February 22nd in the quarter-finals of the Championship Cup. Then it will be back to home turf, and the challenge of taking on league leaders Newcastle Falcons at 3pm on Saturday February 29th at Stade Santander International.
Reds’ supporters who cannot get to South Yorkshire for the game will be able to follow the game via the club’s new ‘RedsRadio’ initiative, with live commentary available online, simply by clicking on the link at the twitter.com/jerseyrfc page.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Doncaster Knights (A) – Greene King IPA Championship, Round 13/22, Castle Park, Saturday February 15th 2020, k-o 2.30pm
Josh Bainbridge (capt)