Jersey Reds face one of their most eagerly-awaited fixtures of recent seasons when they travel to take on London Irish at the Madejski Stadium this Sunday.
Not only are the Exiles top of the Greene King IPA Championship and odd-on favourites for promotion in three months’ time, but the match will be shown live by Sky Sports – just the second time in 146 Championship outings that the Reds have featured on live TV.
The home side are looking for revenge after going down 17-14 when they visited Jersey in November, Auguy Slowik crossing for the winning try to crown an amazing passage of play encompassing 16 phases in just under two-and-a-half minutes of possession.
The defeat at Stade Santander International remains the only blemish on the Exiles’ Championship campaign thus far, and the chance of completing a historic double will spur on the Reds.
In the week that he agreed a new contract to extend his stay on the Island until 2024, as well as assuming the title of Jersey’s Director of Rugby, Harvey Biljon has made minimal changes to his squad from the line-up which defeated Bedford Blues 29-13 on home turf last Saturday.
The two changes to the starting XV are both among the backs. Tongan international centre Apakuki Ma’afu will miss out due to suspension after receiving a four-week ban this week for a dangerous tackle in the Bedford game, which means a return for Mark Best. And Brett Herron gets the start at fly-half, with Aaron Penberthy switching to the bench in place of George Eastwell.
The Reds’ bench includes hooker Nick Selway, the longest-serving player in the squad and the lone survivor from the club’s previous Sky TV outing – the game against Plymouth Albion in September 2013 that was part of the Championship double-header staged at Sandy Park in Exeter. Harvey Biljon was also at Sandy Park that day coaching Cornish Pirates to victory over Bristol.
The Reds will be looking to enhance a reputation as the Exiles’ bogey team, having won three of the four encounters between the clubs – the 2016/17 season included a 15-11 league win at home, a British & Irish Cup semi-final victory (17-25) at the Madejski Stadium, and an Irish win by 43-29 on the same ground. Success against the league leaders has been a theme in recent seasons, with Worcester Warriors and Bristol also experiencing Red bumps in the road on their way to promotion.
Sunday’s away match comes at the mid-point of a run of four home games in five weekends for the Reds, which will also include the Championship Cup quarter-final against Cornish Pirates on Saturday February 2nd and the league encounter with London Scottish on Saturday February 9th. Both games kick off at 2pm, with advance tickets and places for pre-match lunches now available via the Eventbrite site.
Jersey Reds Athletic return to action this weekend with a home Zoo Shield tie against Wimbledon, kicking off at 2pm.
Jersey Reds 1st XV squad v London Irish (A) – Greene King IPA Championship, Round 13/22, Sunday January 27th, Madejski Stadium, k-o 1.45pm
Leroy Van Dam
Jerry Sexton (capt)
Nick Selway, Harry Morley, Sam Rodman, Dave McKern, Jake Upfield; Liam Howley, Aaron Penberthy.