Reds' RAG return as Championship season kicks off
The eagerly-awaited first action of this season's Greene King IPA Championship occurs at 2pm on Saturday when Jersey Reds and Richmond FC lock horns at the Richmond Athletic Ground ("RAG").
For the visitors, the curtain-raiser to the league season will be their first competitive action since officially changing their name to Jersey Reds this summer. With a number of new players keen to impress and a trio of pre-season wins behind them, the Reds will be hopeful of at least matching their highest Championship finish in four previous campaigns - sixth place last season.
Lining up against the Reds will be a host club who sealed the National One title in April, achieving the latest promotion of a 16-year march back up the league ladder having been forced into administration and giving up their Premier League status in 1999.
The two clubs have met in two previous league campaigns. In 2002/03, Richmond were champions of London Three South-West, defeating the Reds 3-32 at St Peter and 30-13 at the RAG as part of a run of 83 successive league wins. In 2010/11 it was Jersey who gained promotion from National Two South - honours between the two sides finished even, with Jersey winning 29-9 at St Peter having lost 25-14 at the RAG.
For the opening league match, Jersey Head Coach Harvey Biljon has stuck with the majority of the starting XV who claimed a Premiership scalp by defeating Worcester Warriors 23-17 in the pre-season fixture at St Peter two weekends ago.
The starting pack is unchanged, with a competitive debut for loose-head prop Marc Thomas after he joined the Reds from Welsh region Ospreys in June. This means that there is no place for captain Pierce Phillips, who was granted leave to miss the Worcester game as he attended his brother's wedding.
"The second row pairing who started against Worcester, Nick Campbell and Dave McKern, were outstanding in that game and there was no reason for either to make way," said Biljon. "It's tough for Pierce, but there have been a number of difficult selection decisions. It's a long season and everyone in the squad will have important roles to play going forward."
The absence of Phillips means that flanker James Freeman will once again skipper the Reds.
The three changes to the starting line-up from the Worcester match see Ross Adair selected at wing, Lewis Robling at centre and Kieran Hardy at scrum-half. Hardy is one of four backs making their league debut for the Reds, the others being winger George Watkins and the two former internationals who came to Jersey this summer: ex-All Black Regan King in the centre and former Scotland, Bath and Edinburgh full-back Jack Cuthbert.
The Reds' bench includes a trio of summer signings from Championship rivals Rotherham Titans, all in line to make their league debuts: prop Mark Tampin, back-row player Max Argyle and centre Jordan Davies. Tongan World Cup players Sami Fisilau and Uili Kolo'ofa'i are also among the visiting replacements.
The two clubs will meet in home-and-away action this weekend, with St Peter hosting the Zoo Sports Shield Division One clash between Jersey Reds Athletic and last season's unbeaten league champions, Richmond Vikings (kick-off is at 2pm). The Athletic side will feature four players who took part in the games against Richmond in National Two South - Dave Felton, Brendan O'Brien, Brian Rennison and Tommy Turner.
The opening Championship match at St Peter takes place the following weekend, when the Reds will host Bedford Blues.
Jersey Reds squad v Richmond FC (A) - Greene King IPA Championship, Saturday September 3rd, Richmond Athletic Ground, k-o 2pm
James Freeman (capt)
Nick Selway, Sean McCarthy, Mark Tampin, Uili Kolo'ofa'i, Max Argyle; Sami Fisilau, Jordan Davies
Head Coach: Harvey Biljon
Assistant Coach: Alex Rae
Head Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jim Molony
Analyst: Sam Collington
Physiotherapists: Alena Dostalova; Chloe Montgomery
Acting Team Manager: Kate Innes
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