Jersey Reds will enter the lair of a wounded animal when they run out at the Madejski Stadium in Reading this Sunday.
The semi-final tie in the British & Irish Cup sees the Reds take on London Irish, who suffered their first Greene King IPA Championship defeat of the season in Jersey last weekend. The Exiles led 8-11 going into the final 10 minutes of a pulsating match, but Gary Graham's try and Callum Sheedy's conversion sealed a 15-11 home win in front of Jersey's record attendance in five seasons in the Championship. The crowd of 3,317 included more than a thousand visiting supporters, who were disappointed but sporting in defeat and contributed greatly to a memorable occasion.
Both teams have been in good form, the Reds having nine straight wins in all competitions dating back to New Year's Day when they lost to Ealing Trailfinders. Irish also suffered a defeat in January, in an inconsequential B&I pool match against Ospreys Select, but in the league they had previously proved unbeatable, with 17 straight wins and just four dropped bonus points prior to the reverse at St Peter.
The Exiles are already assured of top spot in the Greene King IPA Championship rankings at the end of the regular season, but will need to negotiate the play-offs to secure their ambition of a return to the Aviva Premiership at the first time of asking. Jersey could yet join Irish in the top four, but still have ground to make up.
Reds Head Coach Harvey Biljon, a B&I winner while coaching Cornish Pirates seven years ago, is keen for the Reds to make the final after losing cruelly by 33-32 against Yorkshire Carnegie last season. Biljon makes just two changes to his starting XV, with George Watkins back on the wing in place of George Adair, and a switch at scrum-half: Kieran Hardy starts, while Joel Dudley joins an otherwise unchanged replacements' bench.
In the previous encounter between the sides this season, the Reds played a full part in a nine-try thriller but eventually had to settle for a try bonus point in the 42-29 defeat at the Madejski in November.
The B&I match will be streamed live and exclusively back to the largest Channel Island, where it will be shown as part of a Sunday lunch special in the Reds clubhouse (book your place via this link ). It'll be part of a busy weekend, which also includes the penultimate league match for Jersey Reds Athletic, who take on Worthing on Saturday. The Zoo Shield match kicks off at 3pm, and will be preceded by a minute's silence to mark the recent passing of former Chairman Chris Scott.
Beyond this weekend's big Cup game, the Reds will conclude their Championship schedule with an away match against Doncaster Knights on Saturday April 8th, and at home to Richmond on Easter Saturday, April 15th. There has also been some planning for 2017/18, with the news that five players have signed new deals for next season, by which stage new Forwards Coach Neil Tunnah will have taken up his role at St Peter. But for the time being the focus is firmly on the Cup, and the massive challenge awaiting at the Madejski.
Jersey Reds squad v London Irish (A) - British & Irish Cup semi-final, Sunday April 2nd, Madejski Stadium, Reading; k-o 2pm
James Freeman (capt)
Sean McCarthy, Nick Selway, Jake Armstrong, Uili Kolo'ofa'i, Max Argyle; Joel Dudley, George Eastwell.
17 Nov 2022
Old rivals both seek to stretch start-of-season winning run to 10 games