Jersey Reds will embark on their seventh season in the Greene King IPA Championship this weekend, taking on a club realising a long-held ambition of returning to English rugby’s second tier.
Coventry were relegated from the Championship in 2010 and subsequently regrouped in National 1 prior to a successful push for promotion last season. The Midlands side lost just three of their 30 league games in cruising to the National 1 title, with two of the defeats coming in the closing weeks after promotion had been assured.
While the home squad has seen considerable change as part of preparations for the Championship, there have also been new signings in Jersey, with 16 fresh faces arriving for pre-season training. A similar number of players moved on, including six to top flight clubs.
The Reds start their league campaign after three pre-season matches, beating French Pro D2 opponents RC Vannes 27-17, losing 14-33 to Harlequins from the Gallagher Premiership, and defeating National 1 side Old Elthamians 35-7.
Head Coach Harvey Biljon gave opportunities to all of his 34 squad players in the pre-season matches, and has admitted to a number of difficult calls in selecting his 22-man squad to travel to the Butts Park Arena in Coventry.
Four of the new signings feature in the starting XV. The lone forward is number 8 Kyle Hatherell, who will pack down alongside Conor Joyce and Max Argyle in the back row. Jerry Sexton and Dave McKern are selected at lock, with tighthead Alec Clarey and hooker Nick Selway lining up alongside skipper Roy Godfrey in the front row.
New signings Will Homer and Brett Herron are paired at half-back, with a familiar combination outside them in centres Mark Best and Apakuki Ma’afu. Auguy Slowik is named at full-back, Jason Worrall occupies the left wing berth and new signing Koch Marx lines up on the right flank.
A further five summer signings are in line to make their Jersey league debuts from the bench: hooker Charlie Maddison, prop Cameron Holenstein, back five forwards Charlie Beckett and Janco Venter and scrum-half Hilton Mudariki. Prop Leeroy Atalifo and three-quarter James Newey complete the line-up of replacements. Aaron Penberthy will travel with the squad as 23rd man.
The two clubs last opposed each other in league fixtures in the 2011/12 season in National 1. The Reds won 29-3 on home turf, and then clinched the league title and promotion to the Championship with a 13-37 success at Butts Park Arena in April 2012. Nick Trower, David Bishop and Donovan Sanders scored tries for the visitors, who also added a penalty try and 17 points from the boot of Ross Broadfoot. There have been three pre-season encounters in recent seasons, the most recent a 26-17 home win for the Reds in August 2017.
There’ll be rugby action on Jersey’s home turf this weekend, with Jersey Reds Athletic taking on Rams Titans in a Zoo League match that will kick off at 1.30pm at Stade Santander International.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v Coventry (A) – Greene King IPA Championship Round 1/22, Saturday September 1st, Butts Park Arena, k-o 3pm
Roy Godfrey (capt)
Charlie Maddison, Cameron Holenstein, Leeroy Atalifo, Charlie Beckett, Janco Venter; Hilton Mudariki, James Newey. (Travelling reserve – Aaron Penberthy)