Jersey Reds must clear a tricky hurdle in the west of England this Friday if they are to stay on course for a place in the last four of the Championship Cup at the end of the season.
The Reds kept their destiny in their own hands thanks to an important 28-27 win over Ealing Trailfinders at Stade Santander International last Saturday – their first win over the Championship top-dogs since November 2018. The result had been in doubt until the last-kick, but a missed conversion at the death left the home side victorious by the narrowest of margins.
The five points earned took the Reds to 15 from four cup games so far, although Ealing took two bonus points in defeat to remain one clear at the top of pool A. Both sides know that wins in their remaining games would guarantee their progression to the semi-finals: one as pool winner and the other as best-placed runner-up.
A Friday night encounter with Hartpury University will present a tough challenge for the Reds, with the Gloucestershire side having been the form side in the RFU Championship when the league was put on hold prior to the February cup window. Hartpury had won five of their last six games at this stage, the lone reverse being a 13-29 home loss at Ealing’s hands.
The Reds’ starting XV shows seven changes from the line-up which began the win over Ealing, with the majority of the adjustments coming among the backs.
Tom Pittman and James Elliott are paired at half-back, with Tomi Lewis and Ryan Hutler filling the wing berths and Charlie Powell drafted into midfield, to partner Dan Barnes, who scored a crucial try against Ealing. Brendan Owen retains the 15 jersey for the seventh straight game.
Two players are drafted into the forwards: Adam Nicol at tight-head, as his fellow Scot Steve Longwell moves to the bench; and Josh Gray in the back row, as a reshuffle sees Macauley Cook switch from flanker to lock and a week off for Sean O’Connor.
The stand-out selection on the Reds’ bench is scrum-half Toby Venner, a new arrival in Jersey last summer and finally recovered from the injury sustained on his Gallagher Premiership debut for Bristol Bears in February last year.
The two sides have met 14 times since Hartpury reached the second tier in 2017, including five Championship Cup clashes. The Gloucestershire side claimed their lone win over the Reds by 7-10 at Stade Santander International in March 2019, and also claimed a 19-all draw in the first leg of the Championship Cup quarter-final last season before being beaten 30-14 in the second leg the following week.
In league encounters last season, the Reds won 32-17 on home turf and then claimed a 31-40 win at the Alpas Arena.
In the Championship match at Hartpury last October, the teams were evenly-matched. The Reds led 0-12 at the break, but the home side rallied while having a player in the sin-bin soon after the resumption and pulled the deficit back to just two points. But the visitors struck twice through Alex McHenry and Tomi Lewis and eventually won 17-27.
Two weeks later Stade Santander hosted a cup tie which saw a scoring rate of virtually a point-a-minute, with the Reds scoring nine tries and eventually winning 55-24. Two late tries gave Hartpury a consolation bonus point, but defeat at Nottingham last Friday have left them out of realistic contention for the knock-out stage.
The Reds will complete their pool A schedule with another Friday night clash, with Nottingham visiting the Stade for a game that will kick off at 7.30pm on Friday February 17th - tickets available via THIS LINK
Jersey Reds squad v Hartpury University (A) – 2022/23 RFU Championship Cup Pool A, game 5/6, Alpas Arena, Friday February 10th, k-o 7.45pm (* = debut)
Brendan Owen; Ryan Hutler, Charlie Powell, Dan Barnes, Tomi Lewis; Tom Pittman, James Elliott.
Greg McGrath, James Hadfield, Adam Nicol, James Scott, Macauley Cook, Josh Gray, Lewis Wynne (capt), James Dun.
Eoghan Clarke, Huw Owen, Stevie Longwell, Tom Everard, Hallam Chapman; Toby Venner*, Russell Bennett, Will Brown.
17 Mar 2023
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