Jersey Reds will have their first taste of action of the 2021/22 campaign with a pre-season ‘test match’ against RC Vannes.
A tough start awaits the visitors against a team with ambitions to reach the top tier of French rugby, having been knocked out of last season’s promotion play-offs by a single point.
The Reds’ starting XV sees debuts for seven new signings, starting in the front row where Jersey-born hooker Harry Doolan (19) makes his first team bow alongside props Huw Owen – another debutant – and Jack Higgins.
The other debuts in the pack see Max Ayling and Alex Humfrey line up in the second and back rows respectively, with Ayling joining Macauley Cook in the engine room, while Lewis Wynne – who retains the captaincy this season – and Tim Grey make up the back row.
The Reds’ back-line will feature established half-back pair James Elliott and Brendan Cope, with three more debuts outside them in centre Jordan Holgate and wings Ryan Olowofela and Will Brown. The starting XV is completed by two returning players from last season: Dan Barnes in midfield and Brendan Owen at full-back.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon is set to make multiple changes during the game, with up to 15 players ready to come off the bench. This will include a return to Jersey colours for back row man Guy Thompson after eight years, and debuts for scrum-halves James Mitchell and Will Lane, prop James Flynn and back rower Wesley White.
The pre-season international will be the third meeting between the clubs after previous encounters in 2017 and 2018. The first match, staged in the Breton coastal town of Arzon, was won 38-14 by the hosts, while the Reds gained revenge on home turf a year later with a 27-17 victory.
RC Vannes were formed in 1950. The club reached the third level of the French domestic game – Fédérale 1 – in 2006 and a decade later gained promotion to Pro D2. In their first season at level two, the Breton side finished 11th of the 16 clubs in the division, improving this to 10th in 2017/18 and then fourth in 2018/19, when they reached the semi-finals of the promotion play-offs before losing to Brive.
In 2019/20 RCV were eighth in the Pro D2 rankings when the league was annulled as a result of Covid-19, while last season they won 21 and drew two of their 30 league games to finish second: this earned a play-off semi-final against Biarritz, with the Basque visitors – eventually promoted to the Top 14 – claiming a dramatic 33-34 victory thanks to a converted try at the death.
The Reds are building up to pre-season matches on their home turf against Gallagher Premiership opposition – Leicester Tigers on Friday August 27th (k-o 5pm) and Sale Sharks on Friday September 3rd (k-o 7.45pm) – and are then due to start their Championship campaign on the weekend of September 18th with a trip to London Scottish.
The Vannes game will kick off at 7.30pm local time (6.30pm in Jersey) at Stade de la Rabine, with local estimates suggesting a crowd of around 3,000. The match can be watched live via the Rugby Club Vannes Facebook page.
Supporters looking to put names to faces among the new-look Jersey squad can check out the player profiles online.
There will also be rugby action on home turf in Jersey today, with Jersey Reds Women set to play their first game for almost 18 months against visitors Cooke RFC from Belfast. The match at Stade Santander International will kick off at 7pm and all are welcome.
Jersey Reds v RC Vannes, Friday August 20th 2021
Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Jordan Holgate, Dan Barnes, Will Brown; Brendan Cope, James Elliott; Huw Owen, Harry Doolan, Jack Higgins, Max Ayling, Macauley Cook, Alex Humfrey, Lewis Wynne (capt), Tim Grey.
Front row: Jack Macfarlane, Eoghan Clarke, James Flynn, Ciaran Parker, Roy Godfrey
Second/Back row: Zak Farrance, Sean O’Connor, Guy Thompson, Wesley White, Max Argyle
Backs: James Mitchell, Will Lane, Bader Pretorius, Jack Roberts, Scott Van Breda